§ Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ian Lang.]4.39 pm
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)
I am pleased to open today this debate on the Royal Air Force. coming as it does at a time when the RAF is in fine fettle. We have too often to talk in terms of cutbacks, economies and scalings down when addressing defence issues. Today, however, the situation is different, in that the service is growing in terms of front-line aircraft, equipment capabilities and, no less important, confidence in its own ability to do its job. Over the past four or five years I detect a real battle hardening in the service. By that I do not mean the hardening born of fighting and losing financial battles in the corridors of Whitehall, but true battle hardening in the south Atlantic and in the highly professional attitude of the service to its job.
It does not matter whether one's scrutiny fixes on the manner in which the RAF goes about its current operational task or its planning for future ones; the result is the same. One comes away highly impressed by the standards achieved. In the past year we have seen the RAF mount impressive operations over the south Atlantic and in the near east. The air-to-air refuelling capability demonstrated in the long haul between Ascension Island and Port Stanley has been remarkable. Equally, the despatch of six RAF Buccaneers to Akrotiri in support of the United Kingdom contingent to the multinational forces in Beirut last September was a convincing demonstration of the reach and reflexes of air power. Therefore, we come to today's debate heartened by the state of the RAF, which is professional to its fingertips and, as I hope to demonstrate, armed to the teeth.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will wind up the debate and deal with points raised. He will emphasise operational matters, whereas I shall emphasise procurement issues.
I shall tell the House the progress that we are making with the major re-equipment programme that is now under way for the RAF. The RAF is currently undergoing the most extensive modernisation programme for 20 years, involving the expenditure of some £14 billion on major projects in the coming decade. Those measures, coupled with the advances in capability that the RAF has achieved over the past five years, will leave the RAF much stronger and better armed than it has been for many years.
I shall describe the re-equipment programme under three broad headings: our readiness to meet the threat; our ability to respond to it; and the reach of our air power in the world today—the three Rs revisited.
First, I remind the House about our readiness to detect and meet the threat that hostile aircraft pose to the United Kingdom. Any conventional attack by the Warsaw pact on western Europe would most likely include heavy air attacks on this country. Warning would be provided primarily from a chain of radars, and airborne early warning aircraft.
An enormous programme of improvements to our detection capability is well under way and the RAF is already deriving benefits. Starting later this year, Nimrod AEW aircraft will at last replace the almost timeless Shackleton. The Nimrod, which can operate with the 425 NATO Boeing AWACS aircraft, will form the British contribution to NATO's early warning force. That will greatly enhance the radar surveillance of the air space to the north of Greenland, Iceland and United Kingdom gap. With the increase in detection range, our air defence fighters will be able to mount barrier patrols well to the north to intercept hostile aircraft even before they can release long-range stand-off missiles against targets in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
My hon. Friend will doubtless have seen the reports in the Sunday newspapers about problems relating to the Nimrod mark 3 and its radar. Bearing in mind that it is still under consideration for the French navy as an early warning capability, will he tell the House what is going on?
§ Mr. Pattie
I do not want to fuel press speculation. It is easy for the media to become aware of items of gossip about the progress of particular programmes. I have no reason to doubt that the programme is sound. It would be foolish to pretend that there have not been some difficulties of the sort that occur in any advanced programme. However, we depend vitally on the programme and are determined to see that it succeeds.
In parallel with our AEW investment we are completely replacing the network of ground radars and associated command, control and communications systems for air defence, known as UKADGE. The sophisticated surveillance and data processing equipment in the Nimrod will provide the information necessary for our air defence controllers to direct the air battle. Communications links that are resistant to jamming — the joint tactical information distribution system, which answers to the acronym JTIDS—will be introduced in the second half of the 1980s to support those operations. To give the House an idea of the capability that is now being installed, there are, in each air defence sector operation centre hunker, five computers, each one of which has more computing capacity than the whole of the system being replaced. With that enormous processing power and the most advanced ECM-resistant communications system, we shall be able to knit together fighters, AEW and ground radars, to provide a resilient and comprehensive defence.
At the sharp end of our air defences, the major event next year will be the introduction into service of the Tornado F2 air defence variant. Prior to that will be next month's roll-out of the first Tornado F2s off the production line at British Aerospace in Warton. The Tornado F2 has an excellent range and loiter capability, and will be equipped with a powerful air intercept radar able to receive tracking information from the Nimrod AEW. JTIDS will also be fitted. The Tornado F2 will carry Skyflash and Sidewinder AIM 9L missiles, which will be replaced in the early 1990s by a new and more advanced generation of medium and short-range air-to-air missiles.
§ Mr. Pattie
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about that.
At present, the Phantom is the backbone of our fighter force, and these are being reinforced by the squadron of F4J(UK) aircraft that we are buying from the United States. They will be based at RAF Wattisham and will make good the shortfall in immediately available aircraft 426 for United Kingdom air defence caused by the deployment of Phantoms to the south Atlantic. We plan to run on several squadrons of Phantoms well into the next decade. Those improvements will increase the strength of our air defence forces from about 100 to about 150 aircraft—a 50 per cent. increase in numbers of front line fighter aircraft—such is the priority we have given to the air defence of this country.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I am most grateful to the Minister. Will he explain to the House in more detail when the 150 aircraft will be available? Will it be now, tomorrow, next year or the year after?
§ Mr. Pattie
If the hon. Gentleman had paid his customary attention to me, he would have heard me say that we have about 100 at present and that the plan is to introduce the Tornado F2 from next year. Although that means full inter-squadron service numbers next year, the first production unit will be rolled out on about 28 March at Warton. If we run on some of the Phantom squadrons, as I explained, we shall obviously have an increase in numbers. If the hon. Gentleman still finds that difficult to follow, perhaps he will refer to it again in his speech.
Furthermore, our fighter assets are being supplemented by the 72 Hawk aircraft that are being modified to carry the Sidewinder AIM 9L missile, and this conversion is well under way. That will be a very useful adjunct to close-in defence of our airfields and—as I am sure that the House will be glad to know—a number of Hawks are already operational in that role.
In war our airfields in particular would be subject to attack by a variety of air-delivered weapons, and I am sure that the House will realise how vulnerable aircraft on the ground can be. Our readiness to meet the air threat, therefore, embraces the various so-called airfield survivability measures now being implemented at the RAF Germany airfields and priority one airfields in the United Kingdom. These measures include the provision of hardened aircraft shelters — 28 more have been completed for the RAF in the past year — and the hardening of personnel shelters and key base installations, so that operations can continue in spite of heavy and direct attack. The complete airfield hardening programme, when completed, will cost some £160 million.
I refer now to some of the new equipment that is being introduced to deal with threats elsewhere. In particular, I want to turn from the air defence of the United Kingdom itself to air operations in Allied Command Europe—ACE— and the maritime role of the RAF.
The RAF is improving our contribution to ACE. The first Tornado GR1 Squadron was formed in 1982, and four were operational by the end of last year. Further squadrons will be formed at the rate of one every four months, with the last forming at RAF Honington in 1987–88. The arrival of these aircraft in the front line is a major contribution to deterrence. Their extremely high bombing accuracy and ability to penetrate enemy defences at high speed or low level, at night and in all weather, move allied air forces a generation forward in capability. Moreover, when attacking an enemy airfield with the JP 233 cratering and area denial weapon, there is an order of magnitude increase in effectiveness when Tornado is compared with older systems. As a result, NATO now has the very real prospect in war of redressing the Warsaw pact's superiority in aircraft numbers.
427 Tornado will also carry the United Kingdom-designed and built air-launched anti-radiation missile, acronymed ALARM, for defence suppression, and Sidewinder AIM 9L short range air-to-air missiles for self-defence. The Skyshadow ECM pod is being fitted to improve survivability. All those systems lend substance to the policy of shifting emphasis from weapon platforms to weapon systems.
A future aircraft blessed with the almost unique distinction of having little to fear from a Soviet JP 233 is the Harrier GR5 due to arrive in the central region later this decade. Partnered at first with an improved version of the BL 755 anti-armour weapon, an ECM fit and, in due course, a new anti-armour weapon, the GR5 will greatly improve the capability of the offensive support force.
Finally, in describing to the House how we are responding to the threat, I should like to say a few words on the RAF's role in the defence of the sea lanes. Almost all the RAF's maritime reconnaissance Nimrods have now been modified to the mark 2 standard, making them probably the world's finest submarine hunters. They have very advanced passive and active sonobuoy sensors, which, with on-board processing equipment, locate and track submarines. With one air-to-air refuelling, a Nimrod can maintain surveillance over 10,000 square miles continuously for well over 10 hours, using sonobuoys and Searchwater radar. If hostile submarines are detected, they will be attacked with the Stingray torpedos now entering service. If surface contacts are made, the Searchwater radar will classify the ships by type and, if they are designated enemy vessels, the Nimrod can attack with the Harpoon stand-off weapons that it has carried since the Falklands campaign.
We are also improving the capabilities of the Buccaneer for low-level attack on enemy ships, which will be armed with Sea Eagle anti-surface ship missiles as well as laser-guided bombs. The Buccaneer will be able to carry out low-level stand-off attacks in the northern seas in war, and would prove a potent threat to any encroachment southward by an enemy fleet.
I should like to conclude my survey of the improvements that we are making to the RAF's equipment programme by reminding the House that the reach of our air power will be greatly extended by the expansion of our tanker and transport assets. Air-to-air refuelling enables our aircraft to increase their combat range, or to remain longer on task: the Falklands campaign proved the effectiveness of AAR and, as the House knows, we have bought six Tristars to augment the RAF's tanker fleet. In addition, we are bringing into service a squadron of newly converted VC10 tankers, the first aircraft having joined the RAF last July.
Subject to the tanker task, the Tristars will also be available to supplement our air transport resources. Hon. Members will be aware of the programme of fuselage-lengthening for half our Hercules transport force. A stretched Hercules is able to carry nearly 50 per cent. more fully equipped paratroops after modification, but will still be able to operate from short airstrips. Station-keeping equipment will be fitted next year to a number of stretched Hercules, which will enable the aircraft to carry out a co-ordinated drop of the parachute assault force, even in poor 428 weather. Our air transport force is therefore a highly flexible asset for the deployment of our forces both within and, if necessary, outside the NATO area.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Will my hon. Friend refer to the Queen's flight? He will be more aware than most of us with what antiquated aircraft that prestigious flight is equipped. Is it not time for the Government to grasp. that nettle?
§ Mr. Pattie
It could be said that the Government grasped the nettle when we announced the purchase by the RAF of two aircraft that used to be known as the HS146, now the BAe146. Those aircraft will be taken into service by the appropriate squadron for about two years, so that their suitability for royal use can be assessed. I have no reason to doubt that that excellent aeroplane will be able to graduate to such use, possibly in the slightly larger, more executive version, which the company is already producing. I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not see that announcement. It was made some months ago.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the light of the public statements of the most senior British officer in NATO, Admiral Sir William Staveley, can the Minister give us an assurance that the high proportion of the British tanker capability that is tied up in the south Atlantic does not mean that we cannot fulfil our tanker obligations to NATO?
§ Mr. Pattie
Admiral Staveley was talking entirely about naval assets and the replenishment of assets. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am talking about the RAF and the Tristar tanking capability. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can reserve that question for another day.
With regard to the front line of the future, I wish to say a little about the aircraft intended to replace the Jaguar and Phantom. Such an aircraft would be geared primarily to the air-to-air combat role, although it must also have a good ground attack capability. A number of other European countries perceive a similar need for their air forces. The Chiefs of Air Staff of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom have agreed an outline staff target for a future European fighter aircraft. The FEFA, as it is already known, would be a single-seat, twin-engined, agile, short take-off and landing fighter for introduction in the mid-1990s. There is, of course, a very long way to go before that staff target, designated AST 414, achieves shape as a new aircraft, but it is most encouraging that five nations have been able to harmonise their operational priorities in that way. The next step is to determine the viability of a collaborative development programme. Discussions have already commenced among officials of the five nations, and their industries have been invited to undertake a joint pre-feasibility study.
I much appreciated the support that I received from various quarters of the House, particularly from several of my hon. Friends, and, if it does not cause him too much embarrassment, from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). I am grateful for his most energetic espousal of this cause and similar causes for the well-being of the aerospace industry in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
I do not wish to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), but I add my voice to what my hon. Friend the Minister has said. Will my hon. Friend take on board the argument that is sometimes used about the high cost 429 of collaborative ventures? What is his assessment of the great benefit for the avionics industry of Tornado development, and how far does he think that process will be extended with further European collaboration?
§ Mr. Pattie
My hon. Friend is asking a broad question, which could be almost the subject of a weekend seminar. He asks me to name the benefits of collaborative programmes. As I am sure the House is aware, the usual advantage is that the numbers of aircraft that will be ordered by five air forces make the project appear more attractive and therefore more viable. Whether the cost increases during the lifetime of the programme depends largely on the bureaucracy at the top of the programme and also — rather critically — on the level and type of industrial arrangements. If the latter are difficult and convoluted, the programme will be slow and more expensive. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I can resume that debate on another occasion.
It has been alleged that we have paid insufficient attention to the interests of the United Kingdom aerospace industry in relation to the future European fighter aircraft. This allegation is entirely groundless. We well understand industry's concern that a major new programme should follow on immediately from Tornado and we take due account of this, but it is just one of many factors we must consider.
The agile combat aircraft is often mentioned in this context but I must stress that this is an international private venture. Neither we nor the Governments of Italy and Germany have declared any commitment to it. For our part this is because we are working towards a common operational requirement for a new European fighter and, thereafter, a collaborative procurement programme. This is a most complex process in which rapid joint decision-making is most difficult. The first phase of the sequence has been successfully concluded with the signing in December of a joint air staff target. Industry has been kept informed of our thinking on the whole issue and will, of course, become increasingly involved in defining the aircraft and the programme. In the meantime we have been providing substantial financial support for the experimental aircraft programme. A number of companies are involved with us in this. The technology demonstrator is of very considerable importance in the context of future aircraft procurement, especially the FEFA, for it enables the technologies that will be required in such aircraft to be advanced while the collaborative possibilities of the FEFA are fully explored.
The Ministry of Defence is funding several technology demonstrator programmes to establish whether scientific or technological concepts are realisable and capable of economical introduction into service. These include the manufacture of large aircraft structures in carbon fibre composites which offer weight saving advantages, and we have successfully test flown CFC tailerons on a Tornado aircraft. A Jaguar has been equipped with a "fly-by-wire" system which involves the use of computers to govern the way control surfaces move in response to the pilot's instructions, and so improve controllability at all speeds. An avionics system demonstrator rig will explore and develop the integration into a single system of digital equipment in avionics, weapons, flight and engine control. We are also looking at methods of reducing the radar and infra-red signatures of aircraft in a so-called "Stealth" programme. The EAP brings together several of these 430 technologies in one aircraft. In short, we are advancing steadily towards our goal of introducing an advanced agile aircraft into RAF service in the mid-1990s.
In the front line alongside the FEFA will be another collaboratively procured aircraft, the GR5 Harrier. This programme, of course, is an Anglo-United States venture. This "new" Harrier being developed for the RAF and for the US Marine Corps is not, as has been claimed, entirely of United States' origin, but is the product of a collaboration between companies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Moreover, when we decided in 1981 to purchase the Harrier GR5 for the RAF, we determined that the programme should evolve into an international collaborative project at governmental as well as industrial level, and that is how it has proceeded.
British industry benefits substantially from this joint programme. Frankly, I find it difficult to understand those who claim otherwise. The fact is that the aircraft on order for the RAF represent about one fifth of the current total planned production for the two participating countries, yet British industry is undertaking some 40 per cent. of the work on the airframe and over 75 per cent. of the work on the engine.
Such a significant share of a programme valued in total at perhaps £8 billion represents a very significant slice of business for the British aerospace industry. One does not need to be a mathematical genius to realise that our aerospace industry does far better from an arrangement providing the workshares I have mentioned on a programme of over 300 aircraft than from having a 100 per cent. share of 60 aircraft. Arguably—I would not deny it — the United Kingdom avionics industry fared less well from the decision to proceed jointly on VSTOL with the United States. I would only point out that this sector is undertaking very substantial amounts of defence business, to the point that it is having to make strenuous efforts to recruit all the highly skilled personnel, such as design engineers, that it needs.
It is, moreover, not the case that by pursuing a collaborative programme, the capability of British industry to develop and produce vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft like the Harrier has been lessened. British Aerospace is the prime contractor for the development of the GR5 and it will continue to undertake design work on the existing versions of the Harrier, especially the Sea Harrier. This work will serve to preserve and extend its capabilities in this important field of military aviation for many years to come. What is more, Rolls-Royce remains the only aero-engine company in the world which produces the vectored thrust engines required by Harrier-type aircraft. Participation in the joint programme is also helping to develop Rolls-Royce capability in this field. We wish to build on this successful partnership in the longer term for the equipment needs of the RAF and the Royal Navy around the turn of the century. To this end discussions with the United States about advanced STOVL concepts are in train. In short, the collaborative programme on the new Harrier not only represents the best means of meeting the RAF's requirement; it also provides a very good deal for British industry—a fact which has not, unfortunately, always been fully appreciated, especially in certain union circles. My hon. Friends and hon. Members will recall union lobbies recently. We had no problems with those, but some of the so-called facts that were enunciated then are rather wide of the mark.
431 Continuing with the RAF's future programme, I should like to say something about the future basic trainer. The facts are simple. We are considering whether to extend the life of the RAF's existing basic trainer, the Jet Provost, by refurbishment or to replace it. We require a sound and robust aircraft which will perform efficiently and economically for many years. If we go for replacement there are a large number of proven aircraft on the market as well as new designs. We intend to take full advantage of the existence of the available competition to obtain the best possible value for money. It is therefore entirely proper that we consider a wide range of candidate aircraft, including foreign designs. I do not accept that we should curtail our deliberations because British designs already exist. This does not mean that we have decided to buy abroad. Indeed, I hope that, if we do go for a new aircraft it at least be built in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
On this important point, why is it that the Royal Air Force appears unable to resolve certain clear doctrinal choices: first, whether it would prefer a turbo-prop or a turbo-fan, and secondly, whether it prefers side-by-side or tandem seating?
§ Mr. Pattie
It is unfair to the Royal Air Force for my hon. Friend to say that it is unable to solve these problems. The preference of the Royal Air Force for seating one behind the other rather than side-by-side seating is well known. Therefore, a design offering side-by-side seating will probably not be favoured, but we shall have to see. The turbo-fan and turbo-prop debate goes on, but I think that there are preferences in certain circles. My hon. Friend must not tempt me further.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have a considerable constituency interest, a somewhat embarrassing one sometimes.
§ Mr. Ross
No, I no longer have anything to do with Pilatus Britten Norman; I resigned last March. I want to put in a claim for the PC7 and the Firecracker. I am disappointed, as the Minister must realise, that the replacement of the Jet Provost is still being debated. Over £3 million of private money has already been put into the Firecracker project. Therefore, it would help all concerned if the matter could be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible, particularly as unemployment in my constituency is now 16.5 per cent.
§ Mr. Pattie
I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. When he deduces that the matter is still being debated, it means that we have not finally announced a decision, although the costs of rewinging and generally refurbishing the Jet Provost seem to indicate the likelihood that we will go for a new design. We need to be certain about it. We are close to a decision and we shall not delay it unreasonably.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does the Minister mean that he is close to a decision on the type or on the short list?
§ Mr. Pattie
We are close to a decision on whether we shall go for a new aeroplane. I am always happy to extend the courtesies of the House to the hon. Gentleman by 432 giving way, and I know of his constituency interest. He represents vigorously British Aerospace at Brough. I was happy to see in my office at the Ministry recently a delegation from the union there.
At an earlier stage in the aerial endeavours of potential RAF pilots—even earlier than basic flying training—can come flying experience on gliders. A good many of today's RAF front-line pilots started their flying days in such aircraft, and very often with the Air Training Corps. It is difficult to exaggerate the cost effectiveness of getting enthusiastic young men and women quite literally hooked on flying in that way. It is time to replace the current gliders used for that purpose with a more modern design. However, in contrast to the position with the future basic trainer, there are no British Aircraft in this area and we may have to look overseas for suitable designs. None the less, I am determined that we shall take advantage of the competition that already exists, and enhance that by offering British firms the opportunity to tender for construction of that requirement.
I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for his excellent work. He has used his great experience of gliding in working with the ATC, and has promoted its cause with great effectiveness.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I commend the sail planes that have already been purchased and tested. They are safe, which is important when teaching young cadets to fly, and they are robust, which is important as cadets have the habit of hitting the ground rather hard with them—as I know to my cost. Although it is sad that no British product is suitable for the task, it is important that we purchase aircraft that will last and be as effective as those that we have had for more than 30 years.
§ Mr. Pattie
I entirely support my hon. Friend's remarks.
Having said a good deal about the RAF's future aircraft, I should like briefly to review the progress made on two of the more important weapon systems. Following the decision last year to purchase the British air-launched anti-radiation missile—ALARM—I am pleased to report to the House that a fixed price contract covering development and production of the ALARM system was agreed last August. Since then, subcontractors have been appointed for appropriate specialist sub-systems and project teams have been built up together with associated development facilities. Early development models of hardware are available on all sub-systems, and some of those have completed initial development trials. The programme is on schedule.
Another British Aerospace programme, air-launched Sea Eagle, is making satisfactory progress through its development phase. Successful trials firings have taken place from both Buccaneer and Sea Harrier aircraft, and the first production missile is on schedule for completion in the late summer. In addition to the order from our own services, India has chosen Sea Eagle to equip its Sea King helicopters. That achievement of overseas sales at so early a stage in Sea Eagle's life is most encouraging.
§ Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)
My hon. Friend has mentioned the air-launched Sea Eagle. Can he give the House any news on the progress towards a decision to procure the ship-launched Sea Eagle?
§ Mr. Pattie
I must be wholly consistent with my response to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) when he intervened earlier. I said that it was a naval matter—indeed, it is hard to imagine a more naval matter. I do not blame my hon. Friend for raising the point, but I am bound by the terms of today's debate.
I want to say a little about the policies that guide our attitude towards procurement. Our overriding task in defence procurement is to equip the armed forces by the means which give the best long-term value for the nation's money. To do so, we need a healthy and efficient United Kingdom defence industrial base, able to compete successfully in home and overseas markets.
Our approach to procurement now stresses the need to discuss with industry at the earliest stage to allow it maximum scope to offer its best solutions to our problems. We are attempting to simplify requirements to eliminate "gold plating" and, wherever possible, adjust them to increase their export prospects. We are entering into joint venture projects with industry where they are judged a good business proposition. An example of that is the EH101 helicopter where the Government and Westlands are in a joint venture with the Italian Government and Agusta.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
That important deal involves about £2,000 million. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the new three-engined helicopter will be powered by engines built in Britain?
§ Mr. Pattie
It is too early to answer that question. The aircraft is currently designed to take American engines. At the time that the aircraft was designed, there was no Rolls-Royce engine to fit it. That is not to say that one might not be produced. Indeed, I understand that there are plans that might be developed and produced.
I remind the House that last month the United Kingdom and Italy took two significant steps towards launching the development of a collaborative helicopter, the EH101. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the two nations' Ministries of Defence covering the development of the military version, and Ministers of the two industry Ministries signed a confidential memorandum of understanding reflecting their commitment to support the commercial version. Moreover, eight days ago the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, announced to Parliament the Government's decision to advance to Westland Helicopters Ltd. up to £60 million in launch aid over the next six years towards the company's share of the project.
The commercial version of the EH101 is envisaged as being produced in two variants—passenger-carrying and utility. The military version is conceived as a naval antisubmarine warfare helicopter. In that role, it will replace the Royal Navy's Sea King and the Italian navy's SH3D helicopters from the early 1990s.
The next step in that important project will be the signing of a development contract with EH Industries Ltd., a joint Westland and Agusta company.
When it comes to a choice between British and foreign purchase, our policy is to buy British wherever it is good sense, economic and consistent with our international obligations to do so. We go overseas only when the advantages of cost, performance and time scale are judged to outweigh the longer-term benefits of procuring the British option. The proof of the pudding is in the 434 proportion of our defence equipment expenditure going on contracts to British suppliers, which is running at 95 per cent., including collaborative projects. A "buy British regardless" policy would be self-defeating because it would encourage other nations to protectionism. As defence equipment exports make a major contribution to the balance of payments—some £2.4 billion last year—British industry would be the loser. That is especially true of the aerospace industry which is so dependent on overseas sales. About two thirds of the output from the industry is exported.
There has been a campaign recently for Government support for our aerospace industry, to which reference has been made, and several hon. Members have written to me about their constituents' concern for the future. I understand that, but I have to say that the Government's record in working with industry is good by any standards.
The aerospace industry includes our largest defence contractors, with whom we spend several hundreds of millions of pounds a year. A significant proportion of that is on research and development—the seed corn of future projects. As with other equipment areas, the overwhelming proportion of our expenditure on air systems is with British suppliers—even though approaching one third of our expenditure in that area goes into collaborative projects. I must stress that the forward programme is nothing other than the equipment that our armed forces need: its size and shape cannot be dictated by the existing capacity of British industry.
However, in following that policy we are continuing to make major investments in military aerospace equipment which bring work and develop the capabilities of those industries. One example is our decision last year to purchase the ALARM defence suppression missile which will maintain in the United Kingdom capabilities in a key area of defence technology. But our choices are made on the value-for-money grounds that result in equipment which both meets the requirements of the United Kingdom armed forces and is also competitive on the international market. For it is to that market, and not only to the Ministry of Defence, that our aerospace industry must look for its future prosperity. In the long run success will depend on the response that management and work force can make to that challenge.
I should like to conclude by saying a few words under the heading of joint operations. The Falklands' campaign was a highly successful demonstration not only of inter-service co-operation, but of co-operation across a broader spectrum. A good deal has been said about the efficiency with which the task force set to sea and about its job in the south Atlantic. The RAF also played a vital role. We should also remember the enormous contribution which the United Kingdom defence industry, both the private and public sectors, made to the success of operation Corporate. We could not have had a clearer demonstration of the need to retain in this country a broadly based defence industrial capability. Neither could we have had more wholehearted co-operation in that endeavour than we received. It is the Government's intention that we should retain a defence sector in British industry capable of providing our armed services with a wide range of technologies and capabilities, and that the aerospace component of the defence industrial base in this country should continue, as at present, to thrive, on the basis of a healthy order book at home and an expanding one overseas.
435 Given that degree of home support, we can be fully confident that the Royal Air Force will carry out its task with courage and skill, and that it will continue to make a vital contribution to the preservation of our security and our freedoms.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I join the Minister in congratulating the British defence industries on the work that they did at the time of the Falklands conflict. However, I am sorry that the Minister did not extend his appreciation to the many men in the shipyards and elsewhere who worked so hard to fit out and get the fleet ready for sea, and who now find themselves on the dole because their shipyards, including some on Humberside, have closed.
I take issue with the Minister on one point. He said that the unions that came to see him last week perhaps did not have all their facts or statements right, and that the rumours that they passed on to him were ill-founded. When we make our speeches about the effectiveness of our defence forces, we often forget the men and women in the design teams and on the factory floor who produce the aircraft missiles, work in avionics, and so on. But their morale and worries must also be our concern. One thing that is certain is that morale in the industry is now very fragile. Those who work in it are worried not only about the immediate future and their jobs — the unions concerned have been to see the Minister—but about the future of the defence, and in particular aircraft, industries.
Like the Opposition, those men and women fear that if their jobs at Warton, Brough and elsewhere go, the present skills, techniques, years of training and capital investment in manpower will be lost, and will be impossible to replace. However, the industry is at the forefront of our new technologies and has spin-offs in the civil as well as military sectors. Indeed, its techniques and developments have spin-offs throughout industry. If those skills are lost, British industry as a whole will be much worse off. If the Government's furious attack on this nation's industrial base extends to the defence industries, not only our industrial but our defence potential will be weakened. That is what concerns the unions. They are concerned not only about jobs, but about this country's security and its ability to defend itself while relying as much as possible on our manufacturing base to produce the weapons that will enable it to do so.
§ Mr. Pattie
I wish to ensure that there is no misunderstanding about the delegations from Brough and Warton. The remarks that I made related entirely to the newspapers and the broadsheet put out at the time of the national lobby under the signature of Mr. Ken Gill, when various claims were made. However, those were not the claims being considered by the union delegations that I saw. There were no problems between us.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am pleased to hear that. In that case, the major problem must be caused by the Government's philosophy.
The Minister talked about value for money. I accept that that is important for the nation, but we must consider not a short balance sheet, but the amount of money invested in this nation over many decades, and our capability to produce weapons systems.
436 The Opposition want Britain to lose its nuclear capability. We consider many of the projects under discussion, in particular the agile combat aircraft, from the viewpoint of conventional weapons replacing the need for a nuclear response. Such conventional weapons will help us to rely less on nuclear weapons while still safeguarding our position in NATO in that regard.
The Minister said that the RAF was in fine fettle. He mentioned the improvements which had taken place, which he though illustrated that a Conservative Government were good for the RAF. We do not agree with that. Furthermore, the picture is not as rosy as the hon. Gentleman described. If the Air Force is to be modernised, the Government will have to show a little more alacrity and success than so far.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am quite willing to give way to God, but I do not see him intervening in the debate. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) wishes to intervene, I shall certainly give way.
§ Mr. Walker
It may surprise the hon. Gentleman to discover that I am the only serving RAF Reserve officer in the House. Today morale in the RAF is as high as I can remember it in post-war years. That is no exaggeration.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am pleased to hear that. However, morale is high because of the splendid men in the RAF, and despite this Government.
If our aim is to defend our country as best we can, we must use the best equipment. The previous Labour Government were severely criticised for allowing our air defences to shrink to a very low level. When I asked the Minister about the 150 fighters that we are to have, it was interesting that he could not say where, when or how. He suggested that I should sit down and work it out with the imprecise figures and dates that he had given. However, I understand that the strength of our fighter force defending the United Kingdom is lower than at any time in the past. I gather that at present only about 72 aircraft are available to defend this country from a Warsaw pact attack. The Minister may shake his head, but let us look at his Defence Estimates and at the figures. There are 110 Phantoms, 30 of which are assigned to NATO, mostly in Germany. There are eight Phantoms in the Falklands. Thirty-eight from 110 leaves 72. The 50 Lightnings are also assigned to NATO, and most of them are also in Germany.
§ Mr. Pattie
I do not want to be drawn by all the hon. Gentleman's inaccuracies, but the Lightnings are not in Germany. They are assigned to NATO, but it may have escaped the hon. Gentleman's attention that the defence of the United Kingdom is a major NATO task.
§ Mr. McNamara
That is very interesting, but when the Conservative party was in opposition in 1978 it did not adopt that attitude. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour)—not the Government's most beloved Member of Parliament, but respected by the Opposition—who then spoke about a Cinderella RAF. He demanded statements at a time when it was said that there were only 74 aircraft with which to counter a Soviet attack. He was talking solely about aircraft assigned to the defence of the United Kingdom. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the 437 gander. Today there are only 72. One can say exactly the same about the present position. That is the situation, and the Government will have to face it.
The Minister said a great deal about improvements in the Hawk programme. I was interested to hear about the 72 Hawks to which the Sidewinder is to be fitted. We should be glad to know how many aircraft have been, and are to be, modified. The programme has fallen behind considerably from the time when it was announced. How many of the Hawk Sidewinder replacements have taken place—one, six or 20?
§ Mr. McNamara
That is about 24 planes. Bit by bit, we are drawing more information out of the Government. Twenty-four planes out of 72 have been modified. We should be glad to know when the rest are to be done, and what progress is being made.
Another improvement associated with the use of the Hawk, when armed in that way, is that it enables training pilots to maintain war flying hours. If the trainers—the Hawks—have Sidewinders attached, the pilots can be regarded as being among those who are capable and ready for the defence of this country.
I have other quesions to ask about the Hawk. There are at the moment eight Phantoms in the Falklands, but we have also now installed adequate ground radar there. Could not those Phantoms be brought back for the defence of the United Kingdom and be replaced, for local air defence, by the Hawk?
§ Mr. McNamara
I shall come to that point. We know that the Hawk is more economical. The Phantom is a gas-guzzler.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Williams) quite rightly asks how the Hawk would cope againt the Mirage and the Super Etendard. The question is whether the great losses suffered by the Argentine air force were due entirely to the capability of the Harrier and our pilots, or to the fact that the Argentine planes were over-extended and could not mix it in battle. That was shown by the fact that many of the planes were lost when seeking to return to the Argentine mainland. Using the Hawk in the Falklands—together with adequate ground radar, and knowing that the Etendard and the Mirage will be considerably extended—would seem to be an option that the RAF and the Government should consider. That would enable the Phantom to be brought home.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the fact that the weather in the south Atlantic is very bad? There is a long winter and many hours of darkness. Without an airborne interception radar, how will an aeroplane cope in all-weather operations or at night against high performance aircraft? The Phantom is needed because it has airborne interception radar.
§ Mr. McNamara
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's judgment, but I do not accept it. I believe that the Hawk could be used in that role. The option that I have suggested needs further consideration.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept many of his arguments about the basic jet trainer. He said that he had not made a firm decision whether or not to replace the Provost, but I understood that we may shortly hear an announcement that it is about to go. To 438 refurbish 100 of those jets would cost about £60 million, and in many ways that would be wasted money. Therefore the Minister's decision has in fact been made by virtue of what he said today. There will be a replacement.
If there is to be a replacement, the real argument is on a theological point—whether it should be a turbo-fan or a turbo-prop. The Opposition favour the turbo-fan. We believe that it makes far better sense in terms of training, and also, if British Aerospace got the contract, it would add to the family of planes, which range from the new basic jet trainer to the Hawk. It would be eminently saleable. It would have advantages for smaller nations, which could perhaps arm it lightly in some way.
The argument at present seems to be whether or not we should take a plane off the shelf. The Government's argument is fallacious. They argue that if we look around the world we will find a dozen or 18 planes of that type available, that if we buy them off the shelf they will necessarily be cheaper, and that there is therefore no need to fund a development by British Aerospace. That is a strange argument. We would be buying off the shelf from other countries, so helping to cross out the research and development expenditure of those countries. However, we would also wipe out jobs in this country.
If we buy a foreign aeroplane—whether turbo-fan or turbo-prop—that aeroplane will have no export potential for this country. That is a matter of fundamental importance. We should seek to find a plane for our forces which could also be useful in the export market. The Prime Minister has made that point to the British defence industries, and I believe that we should do the same.
If we buy a plane from abroad to meet the needs of the RAF and its training programme, we shall have to buy not only the basic frame and engine, but a new kit to build up the structure against fatigue. We shall have to put in many of our own requirements. Although the basic price may at first appear attractive, when all the sums have been done, there will be no great cost advantage in buying off the shelf rather than from British Aerospace, which would also improve our technology and provide jobs and export potential.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
I do not necessarily disagree with the hon. Gentleman's argument in favour of British Aerospace, but the MOD might plump for the Firecracker. That is also British, but it does not come from British Aerospace. What is the hon. Gentleman's view as to whether that plane should be built and whether it should be subcontracted to British Aerospace?
§ Mr. McNamara
I understand that although that plane is of British design, many of its components are foreign-made. Also, I am not certain that its manufacturers would have BAe's capability and throughput, or the strength in the market that BAe believes that it could achieve. That must make British Aerospace a very powerful contender.
The hon. Gentleman pushes Warton, and I push Brough. I want jobs in my neck of the woods. Under this Government, unemployment is worse than it has ever been. What is good for north Humberside is good for Britain. We are not to get a freeport, a garden centre or an enterprise zone. Let us hope to God that we get Nissan. It is a terrible thing for us to have to go on our knees with our rice bowls and ask for jobs. That shows the depths of unemployment to which we have been driven by the present Government.
439 Let us move from the P164 and all the obvious reasons why British Aerospace and Brough should build it, to the ACA, EAP or the FEFA or whatever string of initials the aircraft will have during the next few years. I wish the industry had as many millions as there are initials spawned. We should then be well on the way to obtaining the money that we need to develop these aeroplanes.
We all accept the need to replace the Phantom and Jaguar in the mid-1990s. We believe that the Government should put their money where their mouth is. With all their fine words, the Government have given little for the development of these experimental aeroplanes. We should study the experience of the United States. It has built demonstrator models, as it did with the F16. Afterwards the United States found itself faced with enormous deficits. If it is decided to build only one or two experimental aircraft, a great many corners are cut. [Interruption.] I feel the same about the hon. Gentleman every time he opens his mouth.
If only one aeroplane is built, the jigs and tools are not the same as would be required for a long production run. Equipment cannibalised from other aircraft is used and one does not achieve the results for which one should be looking.
The Government have invested the least that they could to enable British Aerospace to go forward. What the Government have done must be compared with what the French have put into the ACX. The French Government have invested £150 million. They are determined to go ahead with the project. Unless we are prepared to invest more money, only a limited share of the project will come to British industry. That will affect jobs and the industry's commitment to the future.
The Minister spoke about the Harrier replacement, and the amount of work that would come to the engine and air frame component manufacturers as a result. However, he did not say what percentage of the cost of the project that would be. It would be nice to know how much of the money to be invested in the new Harriers will come to this country.
There is great anxiety, which has been expressed to the Minister, that the Harrier, which was developed by British technology, is being almost continually exploited by the United States, that many of the ideas are being developed by the United States and that our industry has lost out. That is not the attitude taken by this Government or the previous Labour Government. We welcomed the collaboration.
The ACA was suggested for the mid-1990s, but five years later it was decided to go ahead with the new Harrier. Do we have the money, the expertise and ability to develop these two projects at the same time? Are we perhaps being too ambitious? Would it not be better to postpone the Harrier project for a while and invest more in the ACA project to get it firmly off the ground and ensure a greater British share of that project than appears possible at the moment?
I want to ask the Minister about Nimrod. He made what can only be regarded as a rather disparaging comment about the distinguished defence correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Desmond Wettern. He is always reasonably well informed. He wrote an article about the 11 Nimrod AWACS and the delay in their delivery. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) asked when the aeroplane would come into service. He wanted to know how far 440 behind the programme was and what we shall do until they come into operation. The Minister said a great deal about the aeroplanes that we hope to have delivered and systems that we hope to have in operation. However, with many of them there are likely to be teething and development problems similar to those of the Nimrod. The prospects for the United Kingdom's air defences are not half as rosy as the Minister would have had us believe when he opened the debate.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all the points that he raised, particularly in the nuclear sphere. Since coming to the House I have never heard a more comprehensive review of our equipment than that given by my hon. Friend the Minister, and I congratulate him on it. He spoke about the defence of our airfields and said that the new programme that he mentioned would put us a generation ahead. He is right. The most important point is that it will redress the imbalance between ourselves and the Warsaw pact countries. I congratulate him upon that also.
My hon. Friend talked about attack and defence. I want to talk about a topic that was not well covered in the defence review, air surveillance and reconnaissance—intelligence and the war in the air. It is most important that we should have proper reconnaissance and intelligence. If we look at page 46 of the excellent Statement on the Defence Estimates we find that number 2 reconnaissance squadron consists of 24 Jaguars GR1 and one flight of three Canberras in addition to the maritime patrol. I welcome what the Minister said about the Nimrod. The Army's small contribution is recorded on page 43.
The lessons learned during both world wars, the middle east and the conflicts in Vietnam, of which I have some experience, showed the value of reconnaissance and the emphasis in obtaining information to be vital. Those matters should not be forgotten. They were vital in those campaigns.
It is not just the obtaining of information that is important; its interpretation is equally important. It is, however, perhaps even more important to ensure that that information reaches the right people at the right time—the troops on the ground. They need to know about the terrain and the enemy. In the last war all the Soviet maps were inaccurate and we had to redraft them. It is equally important for the troops to know about enemy concentrations of armour.
If we study United States defences, we find that they fly 14 sorties a day, year-in and year-out. In peacetime the United States is capable of mounting up to 60 sorties and of course many more in wartime. Of that number, 25 per cent.—a high proportion—are in support of our defence and that of our NATO allies. That is an extremely important point which we should remember in case we ever have to fight a campaign on our own.
During the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict valuable information was obtained from the United States SR 71 Blackbird. That information probably changed the course of history by locating missiles, which might have been used in that conflict. President Nixon told the Soviet Government that they must be pulled back because they were endangering world peace.
441 The Iranian revolution changed the concept of surveillance because the United States could no longer have its intelligence gathering operations on the borders of the Soviet Union. They could no longer survey the Soviet missiles from posts within Iran. It was the only method of obtaining the information on what were extremely important matters. The Turkish systems were inhibited by the terrain, and we must remember that Pakistan had been asked for reciprocal arrangements to enable the United States to place similar equipment in that country.
While we pay tremendous tribute for what happened in the Falklands, there is a chink in our armour which requires explaining. In South Georgia and Port Stanley there was a lack of information because of pressure on our aircraft. The superior art of our training overcame that difficulty, our troops and equipment were infinitely superior to those of the Argentines, and we were able to obtain victory. But had it been another theatre of war we might have found ourselves in an entirely different position.
After we had bombed the airfield on the Falklands we did no reconnaissance to see how much damage we had done. As it happened, it did not matter in that case, but in any future operations, such reconnaissance could be extremely important because the enemy would be able to fly at a much earlier date than we might anticipate. It is important, therefore, for us to have our own reconnaissance and surveillance units.
If we are to have the progressive surveillance that we need, much remains to be done in that sphere. Let us face the fact that after the last war reconnaissance was completely forgotten—as it had been between the wars—and work on it did not really start until about 1951, since when we have been developing our systems.
I am worried by the fact that the Americans seem to be taking on most, if not all, of the important role of surveillance and reconnaissance. If we should ever find ourselves in another Falklands position, I do not know whether we would have sufficient reconnaissance facilities. I appreciate that we cannot spend money on everything, but reconnaissance and surveillance have been pushed aside as poor relations for too long. We have good equipment for attack and defence but we cannot always rely on the Americans to meet our reconnaissance needs. To what extent are Britain and our NATO allies entirely dependent on the surveillance and intelligence obtained for us by the United States, with its extremely sophisticated equipment?
While, therefore, I welcome the proposals as outlined by the Minister, I implore him to look into the whole question of surveillance because it is an activity which has tended to be neglected in the past. I hope that we will remedy that, for NATO and particularly for any hostilities that we may have to undertake by ourselves, without the practical assistance of the United States, as was the case in the Falklands campaign.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
We have entered undoubtedly the most challenging decade in the history of NATO. The Warsaw pact's unprecedented arms build-up increasingly compels NATO to reappraise its deterrence strategy. Concurrently, the arrival of nuclear 442 parity will make it dangerous, as well as politically unattractive, to consider the nuclear deterrent as the only credible response, even to a conventional attack.
Thanks to emerging technology, we can tackle this evolving instability, however, by providing a strong conventional deterrent to any potential aggression. This is possible by following a strategy that would capitalise on our strengths and our adversary's weaknesses and by extending defence co-operation and project collaboration within the NATO alliance.
What relevance, I may be asked, has that for today's debate? The answer is, simply, that the need is likely to arise, first, in the central region, and more particularly in respect of the Royal Air Force, as I shall argue. I am sorry that the Minister of State is not in his place because I had intended to put it to him that in his all-too-brief references to the threat in the central region—where the other great responsibility of the RAF lies, along with the defence of the United Kingdom base—he was misleadingly brief and complacent.
The most urgent need in the central region, even more than the tank threat, is to check the enormous increase in what the Minister himself described more than once as the Warsaw pact air threat, and which I recall him even describing as Warsaw pact air superiority, remembering that it is increasingly offensive-profiled.
Air interdiction, and a capacity for offensive counter-air in the depth of enemy terrain, will undoubtedly be enhanced by Tornado, as the Minister claimed. But whether it will provide an enormous augmentation of deterrence and redress Warsaw pact air superiority—to both of which the Minister referred — I seriously question.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
As the hon. Gentleman referred to Tornado, may I ask him to try to persuade those who have started to demonstrate inside RAF bases which have the Tornado to stop doing so? It is an activity which will not help even the kind of defence that he wants—defence with which I do not agree, but which he wants — which is defence without nuclear weapons. That will not be achieved if we have that kind of demonstration.
§ Mr. Duffy
I was about to discuss the role of Tornado, and I take on board the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The heavy fighter bomber of the 1980s and 1990s—which will be a role filled largely by Tornado—will have to meet numerous military requirements. They include survivability within a ground-to-air and air-to-air threat environment; an all-weather fighting capability against ground targets and for air force efficiency; and an optimised sortie-to-target ratio. All of those will intensify.
Given the current imbalance in forces, a properly planned Warsaw pact attack with little or no warning would present NATO with a nightmare problem. NATO knows that it cannot match the Warsaw pact one for one. Given a threatened breakthrough, is NATO to go nuclear? Do those Tornado squadrons, and the Buccaneer and Jaguar squadrons which they will increasingly replace, as well as the F111 squadrons, all of which have dual capability, then assume their nuclear roles?
NATO has long recognised that it must extend the battlefield to exploit Soviet tactical weaknesses by attacking second and third echelons, not with nuclear weapons but with accurate conventional stand-off 443 weapons. The Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983 presumably recognises this, for it states in paragraph 4 on page 24:The successful combination of new technology and new tactical concepts holds out considerable potential for a major improvement in NATO's conventional posture, and the hope of a significant raising of the nuclear threshold … For example, MLRS, Tornado GR1 and the JP233 airfield attack weapon represent a considerable capability against enemy airfields and concentrations of armour. In the longer term, we are considering options for an advanced airborne anti-armour weapon in the 1990s and studies are in hand to assess the potential effectiveness of conventionally armed long-range stand-off missiles as complementary systems to manned aircraft for the attack of airfields and other major static targets in the 1990s and beyond.
But is the tone urgent enough; is the timetable implied short enough; and is the long-range stand-off missile envisaged dependable and accurate enough? Is it not air-to-ground, and crucially dependent, therefore, on a measure of air superiority? General Charles H. Gabriel of the United States Air Force, Europe, said in January 1982:We need an airfield attack munition so that we can bust runways, disrupt their operations, and reduce sortie generation capabilities. We must be able to do this at night and in adverse weather.In short, NATO's vital need is to counter Warsaw pact air superiority and free NATO's TACAIR in such a way as to provide sufficient leverage to offset the Warsaw pact advantage in numbers.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman is making a distinguished and important speech and is referring to the dramatic modernisation of the Soviet air force. Does he agree that the Government should move beyond the stage of studies into air-launched systems or stand-off weapons for Tornado, into the definition and then the development of a design, because with the look-down, shoot-down capability of the Soviet fighter force and its airborne early warning, Tornado will not be able to get over the target by the late 1980s but will have to engage it from some distance?
§ Mr. Duffy
That is the question which we all face today. The hon. Gentleman has gone to the heart of the matter. We all take pride in Tornado which is a remarkable expression of modern, and to a considerable extent British, technology. It would probably have done its job a decade ago but will it get through in the 1980s, never mind the 1990s? If it gets through, what will it deliver? It would not be in the public interest to go into too much detail on an occasion such as this. However, the hon. Gentleman is right. We must address ourselves to this problem in fundamental terms. I am glad to join the hon. Gentleman in doing that now. I see that NATO TACAIR now needs the complementary systems that today's defence statement envisages for the 1990s if it is to be free to fulfil its essential role. Can TACAIR accomplish its missions by itself or will something more than even what is envisaged—an air-to-ground missile — be required when it is available?
Dr. Wörner, the German Defence Minister, is on record as saying at a press conference in Bonn on 21 May 1982:This disruption of an airfield's usage, even if only for a matter of hours, proportionally reduces the sortie rate, and therewith, the strength of the adversary's tactical air forceseven if only for a matter of hours.
444 The Minister knows how vital those hours are likely to be. The timescale for that vital interdiction, that crucial disruption of the enemy thrust, is shortening all the time.
The essential task, as Dr. Wörner recognises, has been to close the main operating bases of invading forces so that returning first wave aircraft have to divert to dispersed bases where they can be dealt with by NATO TACAIR. My information is that the vital time involved is no longer a matter of hours but has been reduced to a mere two hours. The crucial time gap can be as narrow as that if second echelon follow-on forces are to be really disrupted. My advice is that NATO needs a conventional ballistic missile to complement the current TACAIR force. I do not detract from TACAIR. I appreciate the enormity of its task, bearing in mind present circumstances about which the Minister will know. It is not necessary to deal with numbers on occasions such as this. Right hon. and hon. Members who are present would not be here if they were not aware of the importance of debating the Royal Air Force, especially this year.
I am well aware of the objections on grounds of cost and of increased dependence on our American ally and therefore the further distortion of the procurement two-way street. I am also advised, however, that a conventional ballistic missile could be funded out of existing programmes by converting Pershing I, for example, from a nuclear role to conventional purposes. The concept of second echelon interdiction and attack is familiar to many hon. Members. I am arguing in rather general terms that its successful implementation can no longer be left to Allied air superiority. We can no longer depend on air superiority unless we have early reliance on nuclear weapons. The Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983 recognises the urgent need to raise the nuclear threshold. Every right hon. and hon. Member present will endorse that. A new approach to defensive and offensive counter-air is therefore called for.
To the objection on grounds of costs I say that the real issue is how in future we allocate increasingly scarce resources. We are not talking of many new additional systems but of determining priorities for the most cost-effective equipment needed for the job and using our technology to make it work together as a system. The basic factors are in our favour and enable us to have an affordable yet credible deterrent. Moreover, it would be a conventional and not a nuclear deterrent. I argue that on objective grounds, not those of political expediency.
We are all aware that our budgets are becoming too constrained to do the type of job that we want to do in isolation and with wasteful duplication. That is recognised in paragraph 326 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983. I welcome the memorandum of understanding arrived at with the United States, West Germany and France to develop a new generation of short and medium-range air-to-air missiles. I am sorry that the Minister did not refer to it. With regard to the overlapping capability of AMRAAM and ASRAAM, and bearing in mind the fact that the American end of the project—AMRAAM — is expected to progress more rapidly, might not our and the German responsibility, ASRAAM, be prejudiced in this programme, not to mention future demands?
Such collaboration forms a welcome part of the defence statement. I should like more international collaboration. I know that it has come in for a bad press recently, but my advice is that circumstances are improving and that we can 445 look forward to more effective industry-to-industry and nation-to-nation co-operation. In any event, we have no choice. The need for increased co-operation within the Alliance on defence procurement is now urgently related to conventional deterrence. As long as a credible conventional deterrent for NATO is not regarded as a critical goal, budgetary pressures will merely give us less in terms of new capability. It is becoming increasingly clear on the political side that the risk of relying only on the nuclear option will become increasingly unacceptable. Therefore, the role of the conventional deterrent will be the key in the 1980s, if we are to keep the peace in this turbulent period and minimise the risk of nuclear conflict. Emerging technology makes that possible within the framework of realistic budgets.
NATO faces a major challenge in its ability to deter our adversaries with conventional weapons. Choosing the right priorities and pursuing a policy of increased co-operation in procurement within the Alliance are two key ingredients in the implementation of such a strategy.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Sir Walter Clegg (Wyre)
It is a tremendous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), to whom the House has listened with great respect because of his knowledge of these matters and the way in which he expressed himself. He has helped me by demonstrating the need for NATO forces to have a battlefield aircraft that can allow Tornado to operate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, unless Tornado is protected by other aircraft, it cannot carry out its designated role.
My main reason, and it is an unashamed reason, for taking part in the debate is that I have constituency interests in the matter as well as a regional interest. In the provision of military aircraft, the north west of England has a leading role to play, a role that it has played over many years. This is more important in some ways because it is one of the high technology industries in the northwest. We were the cradle of the industrial revolution that spread to other industries. It is vital to us in the north-west to have a viable aircraft industry. If one were totally idealistic, one would say it should be an entirely civil aircraft industry, but that is not the reality of the situation.
We have made military aircraft, we make military aircraft and we need to continue to make military aircraft at the Warton complex. This concerns not just the 550 men working at British Aerospace, and the 550 families involved. It goes much beyond that into the subcontractors of British Aerospace. I feel that I am almost converted, because my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), the Under-Secretary of State, comes from this area where he has his own problems with Rolls-Royce. With him, I have just completed a visit to Warton to listen to what the management and the unions have to say about the necessity for future European fighter aircraft. I echo the tribute paid by the Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), for the part that he has played in making public the concern that we feel about the project.
It is about FEFA I wish to speak. We had the advantage last year of going with the deputation of the unions to see the Minister who opened the debate, and we were received most courteously. He listened very carefully to the arguments that the unions put forward. We have found both unions and management very good in keeping local 446 Members of Parliament informed of the situation, and of the necessities that must be faced. I am not talking to them about something of which they know nothing; they are only too well aware of the situation facing British Aerospace.
There seemed to be two problems. The first, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Attercliffe, is the operational necessity for FEFA as a battlefield aircraft. Since the agreement between the chiefs of staff in December, we have moved into a new phase. Before that time it was much more pie in the sky, but now it has been acknowledged by five air forces that this is a definite requirement, and it will be needed in the 1990s. If what the hon. Member for Attercliffe said is correct, even that will be a little on the late side.
There is no doubt that what we have to try to do now—I realise the difficulties facing the Government—is to make sure as far as possible that British Aerospace plays a leading part in the development of FEFA. As we know, the Government have provided money for a demonstrator. When we visted Warton we were told of the work now taking place in preparation for the meeting in May at which the five aerospace companies involved will make representations. It will not be easy, as the House well knows, to get five nations to agree first on the specification, on which progress is now being made, and secondly on how it will be put together. I believe that we can expect great competition from the French.
All the time, while we are looking at this in the joint venture, the Americans will be looking at that express need of the European air forces for an aircraft, and in my view they will not just stand on the sidelines. There should be a real intensity of effort among the five European nations to get something off the ground so that Europe, and not only this country, will have its own aircraft industry. In discussions with the unions and management at British Aerospace, we are constantly told that we must retain the capacity in this country to design and manufacture aircraft and to get the avionics ourselves without, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) said yesterday, apropos another matter, a Meccano fixing assembly plant. When one talks to the men who design and build the aircraft, the intense pride in their knowledge and achievements is something to be marvelled at.
I wish to assure the Minister—I know that I push at an open door here—that he will have immense support from these Benches, especially from those hon. Members in the north-west who are more intimately concerned than those in other parts of the country, in every effort that is made to help British Aerospace get FEFA off the ground for the sake of the country, for our defences and to ensure continuous employment.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
It is not very easy in debates like these once a year to do more than raise questions within the established frame of our air defence capability. As has been said, the broader strategic issues of the inter-relationship of the services, and where scarce resources ought best to be concentrated between them, is more appropriately examined within the context of a general defence debate, or, indeed, within the forum of the Select Committee on Defence. I therefore intend to concentrate on procurement matters, which were indeed the main 447 preoccupation of the Minister in opening the debate. Before doing so, I am happy to pay warm tribute to the morale and efficiency of the RAF. The Minister rightly referred to the achievements of the RAF in the Falklands and more recently in Cyprus in connection with our responsibilities in the Lebanon.
The Minister laid before us in concentrated form, I must say, an encouraging description of developments in the RAF, both on-going and to provide an effective shield in the years ahead. On this Bench we dispute major aspects of the Government's overall defence policy, especially in the nuclear area, as the Minister knows, but we very much share the Government's objective of ensuring the efficacy of our conventional forces, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), in a distinguished speech and in no way are we at variance about the necessity to sustain and, wherever possible, improve, the performance of our air defences. It is fairly rare to be able to follow a relatively bipartisan approach in a debate, and I very much welcome this opportunity to do so.
On the vital matter of airborne early warning, the Minister was confident about the pace of Shackleton replacement, but there seems to be some unease, already expressed by one or two hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), about the Nimrod conversion. This could well be returned to in the wind-up speech.
On aircraft, the Minister referred to Tornado F2s, as have a number of hon. Members. I confess I was not clear about the time scale of their operational availability, and I would appreciate clarification on that point. As to Phantoms, I am told that there were problems with fatigue in the wings of the two remaining squadrons. I wonder whether I can be reassured that the problem is under control.
The Minister properly stressed the need for the RAF to have a substantial capacity for air-to-air refuelling and, of course, this makes a notable contribution to the flexibility of the air force.
I watched from within a Hercules another Hercules refuelling it over the south Atlantic and I greatly appreciated the skill, precision and courage with which the exercise was undertaken.
The Minister said that six Tristars and a number of VC10s were being converted. Can he confirm that some half-dozen Vulcans and four Hercules also were undergoing conversion? Is he satisfied that our refuelling capacity matches the need? I accept that it is always difficult to match need and demand.
It is convenient now to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the Falklands. I have no doubt that he will speak about the Falklands in due course. That is one reasonable political prediction that I am able to make. It is indisputable that the defence of the Falklands has compelled a certain redeployment of aircraft and Rapier missiles. Is the Minister able to make an assessment of the impact that this has had both on our own United Kingdom defence capacity and our capacity to fulfil our general NATO responsibilities? I understand that all Rapiers were to be equipped with blind-fire radar and I should also like to know whether that programme has been completed.
448 As a Member who represents a constituency over which jet training takes place, I am aware that the disturbance which Tornados will cause will be considerably in excess of what we have previously experienced. I do not think that people entirely appreciate that. As West Germany and Italy will now have training facilities, that will presumably increase the incidence of training flights.
Low-flying areas were revised about four years ago, partially in response to the complaints that were then being made. Did that reduce the level of complaints? I still receive them and I daresay that that is the experience of most rural Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), the leader of the Liberal party, has the pleasure of jets flying over his house. Does the Minister keep in regular review the way in which complaints are dealt with? The other day a farmer called MacFarlane at a place called Flichity, near Inverness, telephoned RAF Kinross to complain about the disturbance caused to his cattle, only to be told that he must get a vet to authenticate his complaint. That was not much use, considering that the vet lives about 15 miles away.
I know that there must be training facilities. We all know that and we do not argue about the fact. Equally, public co-operation and understanding must be retained and, therefore, complaints should not be dealt with flippantly. They are important matters to the individuals concerned and something to which the Ministry has to respond.
The Minister spoke of the need to retain a national industrial defence capacity—in other words, industrial back-up for our defence capability. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will say a little more about what advance there has been in balancing that need in a secure way against the technical and financial pressures of much greater NATO procurement integration. The understand-able reluctance of national Governments to jeopardise in any way the industrial base behind their defences must increasingly be weighed against our capacity to sustain the necessary level of technological advance ourselves.
There are many examples of joint ventures, but we must go further than that. The House will remember the failure of the Atlantique as a joint venture. Perhaps that was a good thing, because out of that came the British Nimrod. However, time has passed. I agree with the hon. Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) about the need for a European approach to the air industry. I do not think that there is any other way in which we in the United Kingdom and our partners in the European Community can maintain a degree of independence other than in that direction. The French continue to retain their ambivalent attitude towards NATO. Perhaps the Minister could say a word about that, in this context.
As I said, I intended to make a short speech, and I do not think that it has been a critical contribution. The Minister covered a wide area in introducing the debate and gave an encouraging sign of giving proper priority to what we all recognise to be a vital consideration in our defences.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
This is the first speech that I have had the opportunity to make on defence matters since the Falklands war, when I was Sir John Nott's PPS. An aspect of that conflict that was broughthome to me was the extent to which the fleet, the task force, was dependent on the 19 Sea Harriers and the 449 handful of Sea Harrier pilots, especially in the early stages of the conflict before 800 and 801 squadrons could be reinforced by 809 of the Fleet Air Arm and later by No. 1 squadron of the Royal Air Force. It was a time of the utmost peril. A feature of it that was not clearly enough understood was the degree of personal strain that was imposed upon air crews and servicing personnel, who had to operate round the clock in extremes of weather in most demanding circumstances.
That leads me to the theme of my speech, which is the importance of sustainability in air operations. The importance of it was referred to by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), who brings to the House experience as a naval aviator in time of war, experience as a Minister and long service as a Member of the North Atlantic Assembly. He was right to say that we must be prepared to fight a long war. No one wants to have to go nuclear, and if flexible response is to mean anything, we must be able to deter and, if necessary, to fight successfully at a conventional level. To do that, we shall need air power.
If we are to be able to maintain air operations of the degree of intensity that can be envisaged in central Europe in the air environment that exists in that area, we shall need a high degree of maintainability and reliability from our aircraft. We shall need sufficient air and ground crews to do the job. That leads me to my message, which is a familiar one to the House—the importance to the Royal Air Force of reserves.
The Sandys White Paper of 1957 was a watershed in the post-war history of the Royal Air Force. The emphasis after 1957 was on the 48-hour war. The theory was that the important role for the Royal Air Force was to protect the V-bomber bases. Therefore, Fighter Command was drastically reduced and the capability of the service to engage in protracted hostilities was seriously degraded.
In the 1960s, post-Nassau, we had the Royal Navy assuming the role of strategic deterrent. Interestingly, and conveniently for the Royal Air Force perhaps, it did not change its force posture. It did not move to a system whereby it could mount sustained and protracted air operations. It was still basically geared to the concept of the short war.
It is now clear, after the Falklands conflict, that we do not know what form the next war will take. Therefore, it behoves us to evolve a system of manpower and force planning that is as flexible as possible. Flexibility is inherent in the reserve concept. Since 1957, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has proved itself. We have had the three maritime headquarters units at Northwood, Pitreavie and Mountbatten, and they have performed so well that the Royal Air Force has used their example as a good basis to found Royal Auxiliary Air Force regiment squadrons at, initially, Honington, Lossiemouth and Waddington. There are now three other squadrons. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who is an honorary air commodore, knows much more about the subject than I do. Nevertheless, the regiment squadrons did so well that the Royal Air Force moved on to create an aeromedical auxiliary unit at Wroughton and a Royal Auxiliary Air Force movements unit at Brize Norton. The quality of the auxiliary recruits in those ground units has been almost embarrassingly high with a large proportion of university graduates and ex-regular RAF aircrew.
Only 600 men and women are auxiliary and volunteer reserve personnel out of a total strength in the RAF of 450 86,400. The cost of the auxiliaries and volunteer reservists is minuscule—£18 million out of what I estimate to be the RAF budget of about £5,400 million. The Army's approach to reservists is more sound and realistic. The Territorial Army is 62,600 strong as against 145,000 in the Regular Army. Its ceiling on recruitment will rise to 86,000 by the end of the decade, and its budget is £279 million. We should clearly understand that in services such as the Royal Navy and the RAF, which are capital-intensive in that they use highly sophisticated equipment —there are fewer foot-sloggers than in the Army—the need for reservists to form a pool of trained personnel who can fulfil those highly skilled functions is higher in the Navy and the RAF because in those services it takes longer to train people with that aptitude.
The Navy, to its credit, is constantly stealing a march on the RAF. A number of years ago, the Royal Navy formed two Royal Naval Reserve air squadrons. That was not noticed much, but it was significant. Not long ago when I went to Invincible I was told by a Sea Harrier pilot from, I believe, 800 Squadron, that the first Sea Harrier RNR pilot was fully qualified. Why can the RAF not do the same? The Royal Navy can operate in space, as can the RAF, but again the Royal Navy has stolen the lead.
In no area of specialisation is there a greater shortage in peace time than in fast jet qualified aircrew. In war, the shortage that already exists in peace time would be compounded by combat fatigue and battle attrition. One has only to examine the casualty rates sustained in the 1973 war by the Israeli air force or by the Syrian air force in the campaign against the Israelis in the Bekaa valley to know how serious would be the attrition in northern Europe in a war.
We must have a pool of suitably qualified aircrew. The current plan is to redeploy jet qualified personnel from ground appointments to flying squadrons in emergencies or war. There is a well-refined scheme. A number of people in ground appointments, whose importance in war is not so critical that they must stay in their jobs, would keep in touch with their former units and could be assigned to their former role so that there is continuity. It is a good and sensible scheme. We do not know where the greatest attrition during war will occur and whether the matching of people in ground appointments to the jobs that will be needed in war will work as well as it should.
Another source of reserve aircrew lies in the operational conversion units, the tactical weapons units and flying training schools—especially, the Hawks from the TWUs at Brawdy and Chivenor, a third of which have been armed with Sidewinders. When the Hawks are deployed in war in point defence, they will be flown by the weapons instructors, but they will not then be able to do their primary job of continuing to turn out new crews. The supply of new aircrew will be interrupted at the most critical stage when the force should be expanded. This is a fundamentally flawed scheme. That is why I have always suggested that the Hawk role in point defence should be fulfilled by Royal Auxiliary Air Force pilots.
We know that young men are, understandably, unwilling to commit themselves at 18 or thereabouts to service until the age of 40 which was the previous requirement. Previously, the minimum engagement for service as aircrew was up to the age of 38, or 16 years' service. Everyone knew that that requirement was bound to fail, and it did. The RAF had to revert to the old system of short service engagements with a possibility of eight 451 years to 12 years' service with a gratuity thereafter. One third of the pilots coming into the RAF do so on short-term engagements. According to the latest parliamentary question by me which was answered, it costs £2.2 million to train someone ab initio to the time he joins his operational squadron. Thus, one third of the pilots are lost to the service just when those men are becoming useful as flight commanders and squadron executives. They join an airline or do something else and are lost for good. There is no reserve and no way of calling on their expertise. That is bad economics, apart from anything else.
We should look at the role of the flying squadrons for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force more closely. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when replying tell me whether Flight International of 24 December is right? It cheered my Christmas up no end to read the headlineRoyal Auxiliary Air Force to have Wessex".The article stated:The Royal Auxiliary Air Force will resume flying in 1986 after a 29-year lay-off. Plans first mentioned in the UK defence White Paper some two years ago are progressing steadily. Flight understands that the first Royal Auxiliary Wessex squadron will form in 1986.The White Paper, in best MOD language, said that studies would be made. Do those studies have to take two years? Will we not know, at the end of the studies, the conclusion? If that is the case, it is a disgrace. I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify the point. There is a first role for tactical transport helicopters flown by auxiliaries to fly members of the Territorial Army, and I should like my hon. Friend to clarify that point also.
Secondly, the Hawk is a rugged aeroplane for what I would call day fighter ground attack. It should be used not just for point defence with the Sidewinder, but for offensive support also. Close support operations, especially in central Europe, will be crucial if we are to maintain a conventional defence against the armoured preponderance of the Warsaw pact. The emerging technologies to which we referred are those weapons, like Wasp, which are essentially fire and forget weapons which can drastically alter the balance on the central front in favour of the defence.
Another role for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is maritime patrol. I believe that we all comprehend how seriously overstretched we are for maritime patrol resources. Those of us who went to the excellent briefing organised by the C-in-C Channel, Eastern Atlantic, Sir William Staveley, will have noticed the grave shortage of maritime patrol aeroplanes. The Nimrod is a fine aircraft and does a superlative job. But does it make economic sense to use the Nimrod for the "tapestry" role and for the surveillance of rigs, fishing fleets and other inshore maritime patrol tasks which could more sensibly be done by a turbo-prop such as the Coastguarder? If the Coastguarder, manned by auxiliaries, were used, the Nimrods could be released for their oceanic role, which would make better sense.
It is notable that the RAF, in its war planning, has a scheme whereby the Dominies and Jetstreams from Finningley, which are normally used for navigational training, will in emergency be deployed around the coast and used for inshore maritime patrol. Instead of interrupting the training at Finningley it would be more 452 sensible to use aircraft, such as the Coastguarders, which are equipped for the role and allow the training school to get on with its job.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I intend to describe the shortage of work at the Manchester division of British Aerospace. The Coastguarders are manufactured at that division's Woodford factory, so my hon. Friend's suggestion would solve many problems there.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Yes, I realise that that would be so.
The fourth auxiliary role might be described as cheap airborne early warning. We must face the fact that Nimrod mark 3 has very serious development problems. The aircraft has been rejected by the aeroplane and armament experimental establishment at Boscombe Down and sent back to the makers to get the radar right. Those are the facts, and the House and the country may as well know them because they are serious. I do not decry the weapon system. If all the bugs can be sorted out, it will be an admirable system. Nevertheless, there is a need for supplemental airborne early warning. If we had had something like the Coastguarder airborne early warning-aircraft, it could have been used in the Falklands war, operating from Goose Green once the airfield had been regained. There is also an export market for such aircraft. The air defence of the United Kingdom will be enhanced if this is available to fill in the gaps.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I support my hon. Friend's very interesting suggestion about the use of the reserves. Does he agree that the assets of aircraft and ground facilities would probably be otherwise unused when the auxiliaries would wish to use them? Secondly, what time scale does he envisage for the auxiliaries fulfilling a reserve role?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's first point. Not in the operational squadrons, but in many of the training schools, the RAF operates a five-day week so that aircraft sit in the hangers at weekends when they could be used by auxiliaries.
I will deal with my hon. Friend's second point by giving concrete examples from abroad. People throw up their hands in horror and ask how civilians will cope. As we discovered in the Falklands war, the civil community—the basic economy of this country—is rich in a diversity of skills and talent. Many people do not necessarily want to be in full-time military service, but they could be useful as volunteer reserves or auxiliaries. The United States Air National Guard has 1,000 combat aircraft and 99,500 personnel and now flies the F16—the most modern fighter operational in Europe, which is also flown by the Dutch, the Norwegians, the Danes and the Belgians—and the ANG pilots are coping very well with the task. In the United States navy the fourth squadron of Fl8s is to go to the reserve, so let it not be said that only regulars can cope with modern equipment.
Indeed, the experience of the reserves in this regard is often greater than that of the regulars they concentrate on that one role. They do not go to staff college or command recruitment training schools. They do not become ADCs or air attaches and the like. They concentrate on just one role. I have visited Air National Guard squadrons which regularly deploy here, and the defence of Europe depends on them. They carry out in-flight refuelling over the 453 Atlantic and come here to summer camp flying supersonic fighters. Among the pilots there is scarcely one with less than 2,000 hours flying experience. In the regular Air Force a man with 2,000 hours experience with a Jaguar or Phantom squadron is likely to be a flight commander. In the ANG, however, the ordinary squadron pilot has that sort of experience. The same is true of the United States air force reserve.
Let us consider the operational record of air forces with strong reserve elements.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones
I am scarcely gallant, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman intends to draw a comparison. In 1939 the RAF Volunteer Reserve formed an important part of the defence of this country. Is the hon. Gentleman pressing the RAF and the Ministry of Defence to introduce that concept into the modern RAF?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Moreover, one third of the pilots in the Battle of Britain were auxiliaries. Nevertheless, there are two different concepts. The volunteer reserve is a pool of non-assigned aircrew, whereas the auxiliaries are in units or squadrons with a territorial connection—usually with the county of this, that or the other. In the first instance, I am calling for the re-creation of flying units in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There is, of course, a need for VR pilots, for example in air transport, so that civil crews can be assigned to war zones in an emergency. There is merit in both, but I was concentrating on the auxiliaries today.
The best example is the Israeli air force, which has been more wedded than any other to the concept of reserves. I believe that operationally it has also proved itself to be the finest air force in the world. A typical Kfir squadron with 24 pilots and 24 aircraft would be one third reservists. The first MiG25 shot down over the Bekaa valley was shot down by a reserve pilot. The Israelis have found that if reservists operate for 50 to 70 hours per year, they can retain a reasonable level of competence. That is also the experience of the Swiss, who depend heavily on reserves.
The key to the matter is not simply that one is using trained crews who join the auxiliaries after regular service. The key now lies in modern simulation, which is so advanced that one can simulate not just procedures but air combat, feeding in whatever aircraft one wishes to engage. There is, of course, the Warton simulator, which I have seen. There are also air-to-ground simulators. These could be used by auxiliaries in the evenings and at weekends when the regular units are not using them. That is the key to giving the RAF greater capability for sustained air operations. It will also increase the amount of contact between the civil community and the service.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
It now seems unlikely that I shall speak in the debate. Will my hon. Friend draw attention to the fact that the RAF already has experience of volunteers who give 30 to 40 weekends every year, some having done so for more than 30 years and many of whom have built up flying hours well in excess of many Regulars? Those people operate on the Chipmunk air experience flights and also, as I do, teach air cadets to fly gliders, both motorised and conventional.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Yes, I know that it is so, and I pay tribute to all involved.
We must face the fact that the defence budget will be seriously constrained in the next two or three years. The cost of Trident will be horrendous, especially in view of the current relationship between the pound and the dollar. It will cost about £10,000 million, at a time when we are also procuring the Tornado, F2 and the GR5 and hoping to develop the ACA. In those circumstances, it behoves the RAF to consider policies which will reduce or at least control the manpower costs of its defence budget. Auxiliaries do not need pensions, education allowances for children, married quarters and the rest. They are paid when they do the job. That strikes me as the ideal system for the Royal Air Force today and, more particularly, tomorrow.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
One of the civilised and agreeable courtesies of the House is that often hon. Members who follow another hon. Member excuse themselves for not continuing on his line. However, I shall begin on the line of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who began his speech by saying that today he intervened for the first time on defence matters since he was Sir John Nott's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He went on to imply that one of the lessons of the Falklands—he implied that John Nott had agreed — was flexibility. Some hon. Members remember with fascination the valedictory speech that Sir John Nott made from the Dispatch Box. It was the last speech he made from the Front Bench. He had clearly written it himself—it was not written by a civil servant—and I thought that some of his true feelings came out.
I hestitate to take issue with Sir John Nott's former PPS, but from that speech and various public utterances since then, I should have thought that Sir John Nott, with a sense of realism, recognised that "flexibility" was exceedingly expensive and that Britain should concentrate on central defence issues rather than become involved in all sorts of expenditure, which our economy cannot sustain. The memoirs to which some hon. Members look forward most, are Sir John Nott's. I am sure that they will be well written, for he was a man of candour and a most interesting Minister.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes, they will certainly be witty. I hope that he has time between his daffodils and his business to give us the benefit of them sooner rather than later, because they will be well worth reading.
The idea of flexibility sounds fine, but we must make up our minds whether we can have such a horrendous financial commitment in the south Atlantic and still pay for essential defence and many other civil commitments.
I interrupted the Minister on two points and should like to return to them. First, I asked a simple question about the cost of Sidewinder. It is the sort of question that cannot be asked in parliamentary questions. As systems go, I know Sidewinder is not very expensive, but it is legitimate to ask how much we are paying the Americans for it, because there is a background point, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and others are only too well aware. Is it not true that Britain 455 is now the fourth or fifth biggest customer of the United States when it comes to buying arms? It is against that background that I ask about Sidewinder.
Secondly, I asked the Minister about tanker aircraft. In one sense he was right that Sir William Staveley was a naval officer and that the remarks were made in a naval context. But to be fair, they were not wholly within a naval context because he is the senior British NATO officer, and I thought that they were in terms of general capability. However, so be it.
I repeat the question for the wind-up. What proportion of our tanker capability is bound up in the south Atlantic? Can the Minister assure the House that NATO is satisfied that we have a sufficient British contribution to what NATO itself took for granted?
I am aware that this may be an Army point, yet it is not entirely. I refer to the helicopters in the Falklands and the tragic case, about which I asked questions, involving Sergeant Jones and Captain Belt in the lost Lynx. I shall not go into that because there is a board of inquiry and presumably it will report reasonably soon.
People returning from the Falklands are saying that much of the equipment quickly becomes "clapped out"—to use the old service phrase—in those conditions. Whatever I or anybody else thinks about our commitment, we should all be concerned about the safety of personnel. Therefore, I ask the following question. Is there any grain of truth in the idea that at the rate that those helicopters are being used—not only the Lynx but the Sea King and the Wessex—they are becoming more dangerous than they should be? I hope that the Minister will say at the end of the debate that there is nothing in it. I should be greatly pleased by that.
What bothers many people are the costs of the airport in the south Atlantic. There was a statement in the New Civil Engineer that costs had already escalated to £240 million. I understand that Ministry of Defence civil servants thought that that figure had come from me. In fact, it did not. I never mentioned it. There were other sources. What is the latest estimate of the cost of the airport, given that there are strong suggestions that the 8,500 ft runway is not long enough for a fully loaded Tristar? An extension may have to be made to 10,000 ft. There are certain problems of strata involving the tillite that is at lm or 2m of peat. Proper borings have not been taken where the extension might have to be made. Again, I look forward to the Minister's reply.
I do not want to be too current, but this morning in The Scotsman, under the byline of Chris Mullinger, who is a reputable and serious journalist, there appeared an article about GCHQ. It would have been better to establish its basis by means of parliamentary questions, but the following questions were not allowed by the Table Office. I shall put them carefully in debate, which I think is legitimate. What plans have defence Ministers to introduce Computer Network 102 or Platform into GCHQ? Until this morning, I might not have asked that question. I realise that it is sensitive. On the other hand, the matter is in public print. It was nothing to do with me that it got there.
Secondly, what proposals does the Minister have to introduce the concept of "real time facilities" into GCHQ to obtain time-critical information? Was it on his authority 456 that Mr. Peter Marychurch, headquarters director of GCHQ, wrote to the staff about an important development affecting all GCHQ staff claiming thatour future work will depend on its success."?
I do not want to abuse the procedures of the House by going into further details on GCHQ other than to say that I took up much more time in the Army debate on 17 November than I shall tonight, in going over at length the argument for a Select Committee on intelligence. The Under-Secretary may remember that following that speech, I wrote to ask him for a considered reply. I should like to read into my speech the reply not from the Under-Secretary but from the Secretary of State himself, who wrote on 4 January:John Lee has shown me your letter of 19th December, following your speech in the army debate when you called for the establishment of a Select Committee on Intelligence.
Perhaps I could draw your attention to John Biffen's Written Answer to the House on 12th May last year, when he gave the Government's reply to report of the Liaison Committee on the Select Committee System.
In his answer, John reminded the House of the long-standing convention whereby the Government do not provide information or answer questions in Parliament on matters of security and intelligence; and he confirmed that the Government would regard itself as bound by that convention in relation to select committees no less than in relation to Parliament itself. I do not think that I can usefully add to what John Biffen told the House last May. That letter was signed by the Defence Secretary. It was a civilised and courteous letter.
Given the events of the last fortnight and given the fact that a Select Committee on intelligence is not the brain-child of myself as hon. Member for Linlithgow but is the considered recommendation of very senior Members, experienced colleagues of the Defence Secretary, would it not at least be sensible to consider whether there should be such a committee? Had there been one, many of the Government's troubles over Cheltenham might have been avoided and wiser counsels might have prevailed. I do not want to recap the detailed arguments I gave in the Army debate. I have had a responsible and serious reply from the Defence Secretary. I think that events may have proved him wrong.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I have the greatest sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a Select Committee on intelligence. Would he envisage the composition of the Select Committee being restricted to Privy Councillors because of the high security classification of the matters with which it would have to deal, or would he wish the membership to be wider? If the latter is the case, the effectiveness of the Committee would not be great.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My opinion, for what it is worth, is that membership should be restricted to Privy Councillors. I am not a Privy Councillor but, given all the considerations and the sensitivity of certain issues, that is the sensible reply, and it happens to be my belief. Some of my colleagues do not share that view, but it would be more satisfactory if membership were limited to Privy Councillors. The important thing is to get the Committee set up.
When he opened the debate, the Minister referred in some detail to the Nimrods. Therefore, I do not think I am abusing the House in raising again a matter on which I have spoken to many constituency Labour parties and which I have already raised in the House. What is said outside the House should be said at available opportunities within it. As the Minister knows, the Nimrod is a 457 formidable flying electronic laboratory. Some three or four years ago I had the good fortune to travel with colleagues in one from St. Mawgan.
I assert that on the evening of Saturday, 1 May, 1982, at seven minutes past eight, orders went out from the operational commander, Admiral Walter Allara, on board the carrier, 25 de Mayo, which was in port at the time, confirming that the Argentine surface group should go back to its port of Uschaia. These orders were confirmed again by Naval Command in Buenos Aires at 1.19 am on Sunday, 2 May. Both sets of orders were intercepted by the Nimrods, using their AD470 Marconi high frequency transceiver equipment.
The orders were flashed back to Ascension Island and from there to GCHQ, where there are at least three levels of decodification. I assert, as I have repeatedly outside the House and inside it, that the orders were known to the British Prime Minister at least five hours before she gave the order from Chequers through Northwood to the submarine Conquerer to sink the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, thereby changing the nature of the Falklands conflict, and, indeed, scuppering the Peruvian peace proposals.
It is not true that the peace proposals were vague or ill thought out. Since I last spoke on the subject in the House I have had the opportunity of going to Lima to talk to the president of Peru, Belaunde Terry, to Manuel Ulloa, the Prime Minister, in his house, at the Avenue Calderon, in the Miraflores district of Lima, and to Dr. Oscar Maurtua, the head of the private office, who spent two years at Pembroke college, Oxford. The details of the Peruvian peace plan were given hour by hour to our excellent ambassador, Charles Wallace, who is now in Montevideo—he was not dismissed but given an important job—and were passed back to the United Kingdom.
Explanations must be given some time on the Floor of the House as to why and in what circumstances the Belgrano was sunk. I repeat yet again for the umpteenth time that there should be a public inquiry. It is all the more necessary because it is widely known in the House that the reputable publishers, Martin Secker and Warburg, will publish in March a book with many details of these events. I point out to the defence Ministers and to their officials that a satisfactory explanation must be given to the House of all the conflicting evidence that has accrued.
At no time have I thought that British service men were at fault. Indeed, I think that they were used for political purposes, though not by the Conservative party. My criticism is not of Conservative Members or of the Conservative party; it is highly personal to the Prime Minister, not for vendetta reasons but because she conducted the conflict. For 33 days between 2 April and 5 May she never consulted the full Cabinet on the conduct of the war. Again for the last fortnight we have had another instance of this personal decision-making on central matters. If it is to be believed—I am sure it can be—that members of the Cabinet were not consulted about the decision in relation to GCHQ, that is another example of the highly personal conduct of the Prime Minister which is alien to the traditional British system of Government. Therefore, once again I ask that these matters be explained by the Prime Minister.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow 458 him, but we want to get back to the debate on the Royal Air Force and policy for the next year or two. I welcome most warmly the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State; it was full of valuable and encouraging information. It is right to recall that in the last debate on the Royal Air Force there was full and deserved praise for its outstanding airmanship in the south Atlantic. This outstanding efficiency has continued with regular flights to the Falkland islands. I do not think there could be any air force in the world with more practical experience of inflight refuelling. With the Nimrods, Hercules, Victors, Harriers and Phantoms that carried out the hazardous flights to the south Atlantic, we have shown that we have the capability for rapid deployment all over the world. That is an asset with which no other air force can compete.
We have heard much about record flights from the south Atlantic, and all credit must go to those who set the standards for long-range and high-speed flights. But we must not forget the old tradition of the RAF and its long-range Vickers Wellesley monoplane that flew from Britain to South Africa and from Egypt to Australia non-stop before the war. I am glad that we have pilots who, with their skilled training and sense of adventure, can match those early flights.
That skill is shown in many other aspects of RAF duties. None is more deserving of praise than the work of the air-sea rescue helicopters, whether in the highlands and islands on mountain rescue work or around our coast. During the past year there has been some quite outstanding airmanship and work by the winch crews in saving lives. They deserve our praise for their determined work in appalling conditions. In a more peaceful role, we must not forget the quality of the Red Arrows and other RAF display teams that show the British public just what they are supporting.
I have never been more exhilarated in an RAF debate than I was tonight by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who spoke about the reserves and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force with knowledge and enthusiasm. He and my hon. Friend the Minister know that I am also involved with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. It is right that we should discuss the developments in the reserve forces—for example, in the Regiment squadrons and the maritime headquarter units.
I warmly welcome the emphasis put on the reserves, especially the RAuxAF, by the RAF board. The squadrons have responded by excellent recruiting and enthusiastic training. They now take their place in the line of battle. If necessary, I am sure that the RAuxAF will equip itself well in aerodrome defence. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House tonight whether there is to be an increase in the number of RAF squadrons.
How wise and how exciting were the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood. When I was flying with the RAuxAF—when the squadrons flew Spitfires and Mosquitos, and later Meteors and Vampires—there was no question of a shortage of skilled pilots. As my hon. Friend said, I am sure that we would have no difficulty now in recruiting able pilots—certainly for maritime patrols, and even up to the standard of flying the Hawk. Such a service could be developed along the lines of the national air guard in the United States. I know that some people might think that the cost of that would be frightening, but, as my hon. Friend said, the cost of the 459 reserves—certainly the flying squadrons—might be considerably less than the cost of increasing the number of highly trained and skilled front line pilots.
A reserve force is important for the many reasons given by my hon. Friend, but also because they are a valuable link between the RAF and the community. Reserve pilots would live in the community as do members of the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks will be taken seriously and that there is a possibility of developing the reserve forces. The auxiliary force is important because of the flying squadrons, but the RAF Volunteer Reserve is also important because it helps with training.
I hope that in return for the efficiency and enthusiasm shown by the auxiliaries, the RAF will do all that it can to provide the best possible facilities for the annual camp. It is the highlight of the year's training. There are excellent camps in Britain, but it is important—not as a bait, but as a reward — that every two or three years the squadrons should have the opportunity to go overseas—whether to Germany, Cyprus or Gibraltar. Not only do the squadrons feel closely knit when they serve abroad, but it gives them the opportunity to work with operational squadrons and, possibly, with the Army.
I am glad that the experiment within the auxiliaries to train a select number on the Rapier appears to be working well. We might be able to extend the skill of the auxiliaries so that they can provide an even better aerodrome defence than we have now. I say with confidence that the co-operation between the RAF stations and the auxiliary squadrons is excellent. They receive a warm welcome from the community and they are again becoming associated with towns, as they once were with Edinburgh, Glasgow, the City of London, the county of London and so on. The community is beginning to feel that the auxiliaries are part of the community, and something that they should support with pride. That is an important attitude, especially as the RAuxAF celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. I wish to pay tribute to Sir Peter Vanneck, who has done so much for the RAuxAF. He has just retired as Inspector-General.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies, he will say a word or two about the ATC, which would also benefit from some stimulus. I am delighted to hear that it is to have new gliders, because that is the most exciting aspect of its training. ATC cadets look forward to flying more than to anything else. But the ATC would like additional resources to provide a facelift for its training quarters and funds for the cadets to travel around the country visiting RAF stations. Of course, it also wants to provide as much flying as possible.
I ask my hon. Friend to say a little more about the Nimrod. Are the 11 aircraft ready, except for the installation of radar? We want to know where we are. We cannot accept the point that all will be well in the future. We want to know now that the airframes and engines are ready and that all that is lacking is the installation of the correct radar that will make the Nimrods outstanding early warning aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood mentioned the use of coastguard or other twin-engined aircraft for "tapestry" flying and catching poachers who are fishing for salmon around our coasts. Perhaps the Minister will say a little more about that. Like many 460 others, I have done "tapestry" flights, and it is an expensive way of keeping an eye on the fishing fleets in the North sea, and round our coasts. Of course, there must be some such flying for training purposes, and the squadrons welcome that, but on the whole we should try to bring in less expensive aircraft for policing purposes. Given EEC fishing policy, such flights will go on indefinitely, and we might as well think about how best we can carry it out, at the smallest cost to us.
I have enjoyed the debate because many hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, have re-emphasised the importance of our personnel. We do not want to talk only about nuts, bolts, aircraft and equipment but also about the splendid morale within the RAF and the high degree of training that all personnel undergo.
In conclusion, I am very pleased with the report that my hon. Friend the Minister has given us on the RAF. We are all confident that the quality and training of the RAF ensure that Britain has the best military air force in the world, of which we can all be proud.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Morro). The last time we held a debate on the RAF he spoke after me. We have many things in common. Indeed, perhaps he, too, will cast his mind back to the 1940s. I say that because the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised some important personnel issues, and I have a feeling that the RAF or the Ministry should reconsider the question of reserves and personnel. I think the hon. Member for Dumfries can confirm that the auxiliaries and volunteer reserves flew in the Battle of Britain in 1940. I should not like it to be thought that the voluntary reserves did not do so.
The Ministry should re-learn some of the lessons of that time. We should return to the concept of the volunteer and auxiliary reserves, because it is important. Later, I shall ask the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood to bear in mind that I do not want them to become Kamikaze pilots. I want them to fly superb aircraft. It is dreadfully unfair to give highly skilled, well-trained pilots relative rubbish to fly. Last time we debated the RAF I pointed out that in 1939 we had two superb fighter aircraft—the Spitfire and the Hurricane. The problem then was that there were not enough of them. It looks as though we are now in danger of having highly trained pilots when we have not laid the plans that will give them the weapons and the aircraft that they deserve.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood said that he found Trident frightfully expensive, and so it is. It mops up a substantial amount of defence expenditure and puts purchasing policy in some jeopardy. It provides very little employment for the money spent. As for that abomination, cruise, perhaps one day the truth will be told about the efficiency of its testing. Cruise is a wicked weapon to bring to this country in order to defend the Americans. It is untried, inefficient and ineffective. Perhaps some day someone will give us cruise's fail-rate.
I happen to have some figures, although they are supposed to be secret. They scare me stiff, and I can understand the attitude of the women at Greenham common. There is a tendency to portray those women as being all of a vulgar, screaming-hysterical type, but many women have thought about the issues carefully, and 461 believe that cruise is an evil weapon. Conservative Members may shake their heads, but they should bear in mind that there are some ex-service men who share that view. The views of people such as Lord Mountbatten and Brigadier Harbottle should not be ignored. We should not be assumed to be a bunch of cowering cowards when we talk of our fear of that weapon.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Did my hon. Friend see last year the front page of the Electronics Times—a very serious technical journal—which listed a whole number of deficiencies in cruise missiles? The list was sent to the Ministry of Defence, and we received the sole reply that the Ministry was confident that American testing had been satisfactory. There was no British testing. We have to rely on the Americans' word for it, which the Electronics Times certainly doubted.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
My hon. Friend has given us yet more information about the worries that have been expressed about that weapon. However, I wish to relate my remarks to the important contribution made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood. Such weapons may well be robbing us of the best form of fighter defence.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that my point was not that the cost of Trident would necessarily dangerously impinge on equipment programmes, but that unless we changed our manpower policies in the service there was a real danger that Trident would do just that?
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
I believe that the two go hand in hand. To a certain extent I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has a difficult problem. He has limited resources, and a substantial sum has already gone on Trident and cruise. He is therefore left with a shortfall when it comes to providing the necessary equipment.
I am sorry that I was absent at the beginning of the debate. I have just come back from Toulouse. It is like returning from "ops". After landing there is a debriefing session. However, I was delighted to hear that the EH101 is now a definite possibility. The RAF and the Armed Forces should be given the best equipment available. the civilian uses of the EH101 are also vital.
The hon. Member for Dumfries referred to the saving role of helicopter pilots and their crews. A long time ago I was involved in a perinatal campaign and in saving the lives of babies. I suggested then that the helicopter might prove an extremely good method of taking pregnant women at risk to places of excellence where their babies could be saved and safe delivery could be assured. The opportunities are great and would offer excellent training prospects as well. I have a funny feeling that the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) will start agreeing with me in a moment, although not about the problem of finance.
I bet that the mind of the hon. Member for Dumfries boggles, as mine does, at the thought of ACAs coming over the horizon, head-on, at supersonic speed, closing fast, firing blind at the same time and perhaps shooting one another down. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman and I could survive in such circumstances now. We are too long in the tooth. However, we have an obligation to see that the pilots of today—expensively trained, as the hon. Gentleman said—get the protection that they need.
The ACA seems to me to be the ideal aircraft for firing blind at long distances and for protecting the highly 462 valuable air crew in charge of the aircraft. One thing that worries me is that if the ACA is to have agility, and if after firing its missile, radar unseen, is to be able to take evasive action to avoid a heat-seeking missile, that will of necessity mean that large sums of money will have been spent on it, but that money may not be available because it has been spent on Trident and cruise. The mind boggles at that.
If we go for the ACA—and I know that the hon. Gentleman wants it because of his constituency interests—
§ Mr. Carter Jones
Good. The hon. Gentleman has bared his soul at long last. The difficulty is that if there is to be joint production, the RB199 engine may well turn out to be Britain's contribution to the aircraft. Someone may say, "If you have the engine, brother, you have got your share." That would be difficult for the people at Warton, because they would be involved in the airframe construction. I am rather weary of the way in which the airframe side of British industry has been treated, in both the military and civilian areas. Some hon. Members will guess that I am now about to make a plea for the airbus, and I shall do so in a moment.
If the ACA or its derivative is made on a collaborative basis, I believe that Britain should have the engine, and I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ribble will agree that we should also have a very substantial part of the airframe.
We tend in the House to believe that there is the power plant, there is the engine, there is the airframe, and that is it. However, nowadays, about one third of an aircraft consists of avionics. I am also rather distressed at the way in which our avionics industry is treated. If the ACA is to be a goer, firms other than Rolls-Royce — Dowty, Ferranti, Lucas, Marconi Avionics and Smiths Industries—will all be involved.
I see that the hon. Member for Wyre (Sir Walter Clegg) has just returned to the Chamber. I am making a plea for Warton. I believe that it should have the order for the ACA and that it should have the right to build a substantial part of the airframe of that aircraft.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood talked about spending money. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement is in a dilemma. The Treasury has given him a sum of money. He cannot stretch it as far as is necessary. Ways of training more cheaply have been suggested. Let us not train our aircrew more cheaply. They will give their lives, as they did in the past. If necessary, they will involve themselves in kamikaze actions, but they should not be put in kamikaze situations. If warfare is to be fought at long distances, the men flying those aircraft are entitled to the best equipment, and that will absorb large sums of money.
I was intrigued by the idea of the extensive use of simulators. They are important, but they remind me of the term TEWTS—tactical exercises without troops. One can win battles in TEWTS. The hon. Member for Dumfries has won a war with TEWTS. As long as no blood is shed, that is all right. The simulator can do so 463 much, but no more. To be an effective flyer, one must put in some flying hours. The Secretary of State for Defence put in many flying hours in one fell swoop; thank God he was a passenger—a good place for him. We must devote more and more of our effort to providing good hardware for experienced and well-trained men.
When I arrived in the Chamber, hotfoot from Toulouse, I heard the Tristar and the VC10 mentioned. When the Minister is searching for replacement aircraft for freight or troop carrying, it would be no bad thing to consider buying the airbus—the A300 or the A310. He would be doing a great service to British aviation. The airframe industry is in need of as much support and help as the engine industry, and it could be supplied in that way.
Finally, there is the question of personnel. I hope that wider use will be made of the volunteer and the auxiliary, but let us not put them into inferior aircraft. If they are to have superior aircraft, decisions must be made now so that such aircraft will be available at the right time in the right numbers, although I hope to God that they will not be needed.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) on arriving back in time for the debate. In due course I shall take up his points about the ACA or its derivatives.
I offer my grateful and surprised thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for his kind remarks, and I also thank my distinguished hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg), who has done much more than I ever did for his constituents in Lancashire. We are very proud that my hon. Friend is the chairman of the Conservative Members of Parliament in the north-west, and grateful for what he does in that regard.
Before I deal with the future European fighter aircraft, I want to ask the Minister one or two questions about other RAF matters. If he cannot answer them this evening perhaps he or his colleague will write to me.
First, there is the question of the VTXTS Hawk trainer which we are selling to the United States for use by the United States navy. There are reports that the wet Hawk buy is still undetermined. I would be grateful, as would British Aerospace, for some information about that contract. For some time the world of aeroplanes has had its wets and dries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made an excellent speech. He speaks with great authority in these matters. We all enjoyed his speech. He talked about Nimrod. While, clearly, we must be cautious in saying things about aeroplanes and equipment which we believe to be very important, it must be recognised — the matter featured in the Sunday newspapers—that it has been a cause of some anxiety to senior executives within British Aerospace that they are being blamed for the problems on the mark 3 when it has nothing to do with them.
I am cautious about raising this matter but I believe that it is important to do so because, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, there is a real possibility of the Nimrods or, to a greater extent, the radar fit on the Nimrod mark 3, still being in contention for the French navy. If 464 the matter is not ironed out now, I can see the French, in their customary way in aviation matters, making life extremely difficult for this fine aircraft and its radar fit.
If the Minister feels that it is inappropriate to reply to that point in this debate, I am sure that my hon. Friends will understand. However, he has a responsibility to advise us privately of what is going on so that we can help with what is potentially an important sale and an important aircraft for the RAF.
The basic trainer has also been mentioned. I know that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke about it with an interest which I can understand. I hope that the Minister will talk about it when he replies. The British Aerospace contender is of high quality. I am interested in the fact that there is still a delay. I should have an interest if there were to be some rewinging of the Provosts, as that would probably take place at Warton, with the possibility of more work there.
I understand that the P164 at Brough, and even the Firecracker, about which we are beginning to hear a little, are both possibilities. I am interested, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will realise, in the options and how soon decisions can be made.
I should like to ask a question about the advanced VSTOL negotiations between British Aerospace and the United States. Some anxiety has been expressed on both sides of the Atlantic about the secrecy involved, and questions are being asked about the technology transfer, bearing in mind that there has been understandable anxiety about the transfer of this unique technology to the United States. The reasons for that sale I wholly support and my hon. Friend mentioned it in opening. None the less, it would be useful to hear the Government's views on this aeroplane.
It is thought that an advance VSTOL aeroplane of this nature, which British Aerospace estimates would be in service by about 2005 or 2010, would be a follow-on for the Tornado or the current Harrier. Clearly, with the FEFA aeroplane, about which we shall be talking in a moment, in contention for funds, it will be interesting to know the Government's plans.
I gave my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a warning privately that I would raise, as I did in an earlier defence debate, the problems of "Identification Friend or Foe"—IFF. A number of us went to West Germany recently to see RAF Germany, among others, and we were worried to have the problems of IFF in NATO highlighted by senior officers. While we are reassured by Ministers and senior officers that something will happen in due course, I am not yet persuaded that all is happening that should be. I press the Minister most strongly to push as hard as he can on this matter.
There is increasing anxiety within the defence industry about the usefulness or effects of the defence sales levy, which is raised at varying percentages, as my hon. Friend is aware, or soon will be when he investigates the matter. I pose the question, by way of putting down a marker, about what research has been done on the practicalities and effects of the defence levy and whether it might more usefully be used to assist in the funding of defence sales in a way which at present it is not. I do not expect my hon. Friend to answer that question tonight, but it is of interest to people involved in this matter.
I wish to deal now with the new fighter aeroplane which is so important to Lancashire. I took issue a little with the hon. Member for Eccles, as he will understand, because 465 my interest is not just for my constituency. In my former incarnation at Preston, North I was worried about my majority, which he may recall was the smallest in the last Parliament. Without being complacent, I hope that it is not now quite so much of a problem. The aerospace industry is not just a constituency problem; it affects Lancashire and the country as a whole. Some 15,300 people in Lancashire work in British Aerospace. If one takes into account all their dependants, it works out that about 40,000 people are involved, directly or indirectly, with British Aerospace in Lancashire. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre said, that is without taking into account major subcontractors such as Rolls-Royce at Barnoldswick, Lucas at Burnley and all the other members of the consortium involved in this major contract for FIFA or ACA, and all the small subcontractors who are involved in one way or another in making small and large parts and the sub-assemblies which are so crucial.
It would not be unfair to say that the technology and production and design teams at the three factories which comprise the Warton division — Warton, the Preston factory and the Samlesbury factory, in my constituency, contain probably the finest teams of production and design engineers within the world aerospace industry.
The project about which we are talking started in 1969 as air staff target 396. It then became AST 403; then the European combat aircraft; then the P110. It then became the advanced combat aircraft and then the experimental aircraft project. Later it became the future European fighter aircraft. It is now loosely connected with AST 414. All the numbers and acronyms have changed but it is still the aeroplane that we want in Lancashire.
The time is long past when a decision on this important project is needed. I appreciate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre so rightly said, that we are pushing against an open door, particularly with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has done an enormous amount of work on this matter. We are all aware of their commitment. I understand the difficulties of the Ministry of Defence and the industry, but the strategic and industrial time scale is now so tight that important decisions must be taken.
There is some discussion about the time scale for the Phantom and Jaguar replacement. West Germany and France are talking loosely about 1995. The RAF need it, if not sooner, certainly no later than 1992. Flight magazine, which is in its 75th year and can therefore speak with some authority on the matter, said:If the Future European Fighter Aircraft (FEFA), as it may be called, does not enter production before 1995, there will be a slump in workload at BAe and MBB.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be aware that there has been some talk of an attrition buy of between 70 and 90 further Tornados soon. However, in a recent announcement the Federal Republic of Germany said that no decision was even possible before the third quarter of 1984 because of its funding limitations. We are therefore talking about some time ahead. Even if that were to happen and we were to sell 100 Tornados now to the various countries which, my hon. Friend knows, are still in contention, and we were to have a decision on EAP and FEFA immediately, there would still be a problem with jobs because of the learning curve and the increase in technology that has occurred in the making of Tornados, Jaguars and any new aeroplane.
I return to the article in Flight, which said: 466At least Aeritalia has the AMX light fighter to fill the gap. 1995 is too late for another reason. BAe sees an export market for 350 agile fighters, predominantly in the Middle East. This market will emerge in the late Eighties, and will be filled by US F-16s and F-18s unless a European alternative is available.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre in that I, too, have been very impressed by the quality of the lobby by the aerospace industry, in management and trade union terms, and particularly in trade union terms. I have had a good working relationship with the trade unions in representing my constituency. They are hard working and industrious and have the interests of their work force, and particularly of the industry, at heart, and I pay tribute to the work that they have done.
I was pleased to be associated with the delegation to the Minister of State, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), and the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Thorne), and a useful and productive meeting it was.
The view of British Aerospace is fourfold in this matter. First, it believes that the continuity represented by Panavia —the company that has built Tornado—West Germany, Italy and British Aerospace has worked so well that it deserves to be continued, and that is an important factor.
Secondly, the experimental aircraft project of which ACA became part is important for wider fighter technology. Thirdly, I spoke about the in-service date, and that is an area which concerns British Aerospace because it believes that it needs to deliver by 1990 at the latest.
Fourthly, there is some discussion about whether this should be a completely new fighter. Clearly a new air superiority fighter would have some advantages, but those who know the industry and the problems of design and production reckon that having a completely new fighter, with new avionics, a new engine and a new airframe, would not be the answer, because it would involve all the problems entailed in bedding the aircraft down. Above all, it would have at the least to be sanitised, to be sold abroad, thereby largely destroying its appeal, for example, to the Arab countries.
We should find a situation in which, if we are intending to sell the aeroplane as produced—give or take some of the avionics and other fit—it would take between four and five years after its in-service state with the RAF and other air forces in Europe before it could be sold, and that is a window of opportunity which we cannot afford to miss. Therefore, British Aerospace does not believe that a new aeroplane would be right.
Another problem concerning a brand new aeroplane is the engine. I must be careful what I say about Air Staff Target—AST—414 because it is still in the early stages and discussions are continuing. I know that because I was talking to executives at Warton yesterday, who told me that they have members of the other four air staffs there discussing the matter.
There is some concern about AST 414 in that it predicates, because of its size, the engine, which would not be the Rolls-Royce RB 199, even in its XG20 derivative form, which is the follow-on from the 104, which is intended to go in the Tornado ADV.
Of course, an alternative to that would be the SNECMA M88, a wholly new French engine, but all the ramifications of having that—as opposed to the RB 199, the Rolls-Royce engine—are perhaps too deep to deploy at this level. However, the Minster knows what I mean, as do other hon. Members who are interested in these 467 matters. I do not want to say too much on this issue, but it must be ironed out, because the problem is such that we could not have the aeroplane and not the engine; nor do we want to get the engine and have difficulties with the airframe.
Having spoken about the engine side, I need not go into the avionics because the members of the consortium— Smiths, Doughties and the other companies — are capable of looking after those matters themselves, and they are important members of the consortium.
The experimental aircraft project is achieving three tasks. First, it is working on the fly-by-wire technology which is currently being used on a Jaguar at Warton and is teaching us a great deal about capabilities in this sphere. Secondly, it is doing work with carbon fibre and, to a degree, a small element of ceramics. Thirdly, it is doing much work in investigating what is known as the advanced CRT cockpit—CRT standing for cathode ray tube— using mainly digital and other devices. It is an extremely advanced technology. The work coming out of that and the experience being gained by British Aerospace is making a substantial contribution to the success of the EAP.
If we are to believe the reports in the trade press about EAP there is likely to be a "fly off" between ACX, which is the French aeroplane, and EAP. I do not think that is likely in those terms, but there is no doubt that there will be a big fight as to which should be the main aeroplane in this area.
I am concerned about the possibility of the German Defence Minister losing his job. I suspect that the effects of his moving from his job would have been far-reaching in the immediate future on the potential of this project, so I am glad that he is still in post. Nevertheless, there will be pressure from the French, as there always is, and deservedly so, because they are a fine nation in aerospace terms and they make fine aeroplanes, but we make them better, and it is important that we win the day on this issue. They are members of the five nation air staffs who are considering what the next aeroplane should be, but we want it to be on our terms as much as on theirs.
I have already spoken for too long. I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to speak. I try to speak only on these issues because they affect my constituency greatly and I make it my business to try to learn about them. As I say, this is a vital project. I know that I am pushing at an open door in speaking to the Minister, who recognises, as other hon. Members do, the importance of the project not only in industrial but in strategic terms. Indeed, the Flight editorial of 10 December to which I referred earlier addedthe industries involved must receive the strongest possible backing from their respective governments. The bargaining will be hard, and perhaps acrimonious, but the payoff is a united Europein aviation terms. It is essential for Europe that we have FEFA to combat the F-18 and the F-16 and to be in those other areas where exports are so important. It is essential for the Royal Air Force that AST 414 is a British-based FEFA. It is essential for British Aerospace and the consortium, of which it is such an important part, that the funding is topped up and commitments are given as soon as possible.
The FEFA is essential, above all, for the employees and the future of the British aerospace industry. In my opinion, 468 and in the opinion of many others more informed than I, they are the best in the world at doing what they do. I want to ensure, for so long as I am a Member of Parliament for a constituency that is so involved in this sphere, that those people have the right and ability to continue to do what they are so good at doing. That means that FEFA — future European fighting aircraft — gets the go-ahead from the five air staffs, gets the go-ahead from the Government and becomes the RAF aeroplane of the 1990s, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I listened with care and interest to the Minister's opening speech which, by any standard, represented a competent and detailed survey of the needs and duties, present and future, of the Royal Air Force. But something was lacking—to an extent it has been lacking from a number of speeches by Conservative Members — and that was the political analysis underlying those needs and duties.
It was possible to deduce from the Minister's remarks what he considered to be the strategic and tactical tasks of the RAF. However, it was not easy to deduce the political underlying strategy—the tasks that the Government see the Royal Air Force having to fulfil in the changing relationships that are occurring between the nations of the world. That is where there is a major gap, and I shall deal with that.
It is almost as though Conservative Members were looking in detail at a number of advanced technological projects—going into them in detail and being even more expert than the experts—forgetting, to some extent at least, that their main role here is as politicians. They are not expected to be able to out-expert the expert. The problem is that the Government have taken a number of political decisions that have had all sorts of implications for the RAF and the other two services, and I shall deal with that aspect, too.
The Tory party's track record in terms of reading the intentions of other nation states is not good. It is the party which, to a large extent this century, has been responsible for getting this country involved in wars, whether it be the Falklands, Suez, the second world war or the many colonial wars in which we have been involved. The Conservatives have not been good at reading the signs. They have tended to underestimate the threat in the first instance, as happened in the Falklands, and then to overestimate it, so getting their reactions wrong, as my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) have shown.
I am reminded of Albert Einstein's forceful statement of the 1940s. Perhaps we should always bear it in mind when discussing defence matters. He said:The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking.That is the major problem that underlies the Government's strategy on defence.
I said that I would elaborate what I meant about the political strategy not having been thought through. With regard to cruise, the Minister mentioned the importance of combating "stealth" technology by using infra-red techniques. Although I must study what he said more closely in Hansard tomorrow, I understood him to say that that is one way in which to deal with the proposed Russian 469 development of a missile which is equivalent to the American cruise missile system which employs a considerable amount of stealth technology.
It is only a few months since the Government, especially the Secretary of State for Defence, the Prime Minister and their allies of the time, the Social Democrats, were saying that if the West went ahead with the deployment of cruise and Pershing, it would be only a matter of time before the Soviet Union came to the negotiating table to discuss a limitation on those types of arms. That has not happened. There is still time for that to happen, but the signs are that it will not. There are many good reasons for that. One is that the Russians, rightly, regard cruise as an especially dangerous threat. A second reason—extremely important in terms of the arms race that has developed between the East and the West—is that both super-powers are now trying to match each other on weapons systems. That is dangerous in terms of deterrence and the arms race as it tends to accelerate that race out of control.
The implication is that the Government now accept that the Russians will deploy their own type of cruise missile which is of a similar technological standard to the United States' missile system. That immediately poses another problem for the Minister, as the Royal Air Force now has the added duty of identifying in advance cruise missiles which are directed at Britain and which employ the advanced technology which is used in the United States' system. That threat was not supposed to occur because the Government believed that, by deploying cruise and Pershing, they would dissuade the Soviet Union from taking such action by persuading it to come to the negotiating table. That did not work. It was a failure of the Government's political thinking that led them into that trap.
It is important to note that the threat will reach its peak at roughly the same time as Britain is picking up the bill for Trident. It has been said that Trident will cost £10 billion. By the time that we pick up the bill, especially in view of the strength of the dollar, I suspect that the cost will be considerably higher. That implies an enormous squeeze on the rest of the defence forces. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said just that. That is one example of how the Government have got their political strategy wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow mentioned the Falklands. That is a classic example. The Government got themselves into a mess by misreading the signs. Having done so, and having got a military victory, thanks to the armed forces, they now have an enormous burden. My hon. Friend was right to point out that to defend the Falklands with the advanced aircraft that we are using there is to make a judgment about the future intentions of the Argentine Government. There is little sign yet that the Government have taken on board the fact that a democratic Government has been elected in Argentina and that they are unlikely to invade. I am not arguing that we should withdraw all our forces from the Falklands, but we do not need a defence posture anything like the size of -the one in the Falklands now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow raised the important point of having a Select Committee on security services to consider the information that was relayed by the Nimrod that was on patrol over the Falklands at the time. I should like to develop what my hon. Friend said. Such a Select Committee is necessary in its own right as 470 a means of making the security services answerable to the House. However, I believe that it could have prevented the Falklands crisis. If much of the information that was available to the security services immediately prior to the Falklands invasion had been brought more forcefully to the Government's attention — that might have happened through the Select Committee procedure — the Government might never have got themselves into a mess in the first place.
I disagree with my hon. Friend only in regard to Privy Councillors. I believe that ordinary Members should be involved. Until we give Back Benchers the full responsibility that they deserve and should have as elected representatives, we shall undervalue their role. A good general rule can be applied in these matters: if people are given responsibility, they normally behave responsibly. There are always exceptions, but that applies as much to Privy Councillors as to ordinary Members.
The Minister rightly spoke a great deal about Tornado, but he hardly mentioned its nuclear role. For that matter, he did not mention the nuclear role of Buccaneer and other aircraft. Tornado is a key aircraft in this respect. We have had no serious debate by the Minister or other Conservative Members today about the stage at which nuclear weapons will be used by Tornado or equivalent aircraft. We know that the West is not prepared to have a no-first-use stance on nuclear weapons. I regret that, as I believe that it is a major error of policy judgment. However, if that is our stance, we must be clear about when we shall use aircraft that carry nuclear weapons. The Government may have it all nicely worked out, but I doubt it. If their record is anything to go by, all the evidence is against the theory that they have a well-worked-out strategy.
The Government consistently increase defence expenditure. It is the one item on which the Conservative party loves to make public expenditure. I do not criticise hon. Members for defending employment in their constituencies — in view of our mass unemployment, I can understand that — but if we have to justify defence expenditure on the basis of employment we shall be getting into dangerous water, because the military-economic complex to which Eisenhower referred will become a real and grave danger.
I have for many years contended that one of the reasons for Britain's underlying economic weakness is the great amount that we spend on defence. Since the 1950s we have consistently spent more on defence than have our major competitors.
Even more worrying than that, and particularly pertinent in many respects to the RAF and avionics side, is that we have spent more than any other country on research and development. The figures are never strictly comparable—I recognise the problems in measuring this —but over 50 per cent. of all Government research and development is on defence. For Germany and France the figure is approximately 30 per cent. For Japan, the figure is less than 10 per cent., although I believe it is now increasing dramatically.
It is no accident that companies such as Plessey and Marconi, which are deeply involved in advanced weapons technology, are making good profits. At the same time, many of their leaders speak out against public expenditure, which I find somewhat contradictary. That is at the expense of all the other companies which would normally 471 be competing with the Japanese, the Germans, the Americans and the French in other advanced technology areas, but have been swept out of the market place.
It is no surprise to me that the Japanese have overtaken us in most areas of electronics, except defence, because that is where we have been putting our R and D efforts for the past 30 years, and that we have been left seriously behind. At the end of the day the Government have to remember that we can have all the sophisticated arms possible, but, unless we have a sound economic and social policy, we shall be a weak power. It did not take only the Shah of Iran to remind us of that pertinent and important lesson.
Finally, I wish to ask the Minister a question. Before doing so, I must apologise in advance. I do not normally leave the Chamber before the end of a debate, but I regret that I shall have to leave by 9 pm at the latest. The Minister may not be able to answer this direct question immediately, but I have raised it elsewhere with a colleague of mine. We wish to know what is happening about Short Brothers in Belfast. I gather that talks are taking place about privatisation. If those talks go ahead and result in privatisation, it is particularly important, in view of the nature of the equipment produced there, that the House be informed about the safeguards that the Government intend to impose—in particular, to whom the shares will be available and whether they can go overseas. The sooner we have an answer from the Government on that issue, the better.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
If I may pick up one thought of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, (Mr. Soley) on the Falkland Islands, I agree with him that it is very important to have a reduction of tension in that area which would enable us to withdraw forces, including RAF forces. The next step must be for the democratically elected Government of Argentina to declare an end to the state of armed conflict. That must be the next stage in the de-escalation of tension in that area. We must all hope that they can see their way to do that.
I want to talk more about the duty and the role of the RAF, and less about procurement. To me, the RAF has always been about flying aeroplanes. My constituency contains within it the old Grange aerodrome, now part of HMS Sultan, the original home and birthplace of the Royal Naval Air Service, the precursor of the Royal Flying Corps and the Fleet Air Arm. For me, flying has never lost its excitement. It has always presented the ultimate physical and mental challenge. It is easy to forget that, in days when flying has become a weekend sport for some, and when airline flying has become so computerised and automatic. Flying in the Royal Air Force is not like that.
I have had the opportunity to see the variety of skill and courage of many pilots and personnel of the RAF in recent years. The air-to-air refuelling of the Hercules aircraft flying from Ascension Island to the Falklands has been referred to by other hon. Members. In the Falklands we saw the low-level flying of helicopters up the route of the advance of our troops from Port San Carlos to Port Stanley—very low-level, exciting stuff. Later, watching from a Royal Naval frigate, a practice interception by Phantoms at the limit of the exclusion zone, we saw the need for the Phantoms in that area. I believe that it would 472 be wrong to withdraw the Phantoms unless the Argentine Government first take a step to reduce the tension in those areas.
At the other end of the world, I saw recently another kind of flying during my visit to the polar ice cap area when a twin-engined transport aircraft landed on 14 ft of ice—again, very heady stuff, and quite different from the automatic flying so often carried out by airlines. The skill and professional standard of the RAF aircrew and ground staff who support them are beyond normal praise.
It is right that we should give high priority to the RAF and its men and women, and this Government do that. I make the point because I have to say that the previous Labour Government had a shameful record in this respect. When the Labour Government left office, they admitted that the pay of the personnel in the Armed Forces had fallen 32 per cent. behind their rightful pay, and it was up to the incoming Conservative Government in 1979 to make up that disastrous shortfall. I use the word "shameful" about the previous Labour Government's record, and I mean that, because it had implications, because of the low pay, for recruiting for the Armed Forces and—I ask my ministerial colleagues to bear this point in mind — it had a permanent impact on the pensions that service men received, and will receive for the rest of their lives, if they retired during a period when their pay was held down. It was, indeed, shameful that the Labour Government should have caused the pay to be held back so badly. As to the connection with the RAF, there was a stage when the pay of Royal Air Force Phantom pilot was just about the same level as the pay of a London bus driver on overtime. The situation had got completely out of balance.
We in the House of Commons have a limited role, in my view, in relation to our armed forces. It is not for us to draw up detailed plans or to specify procurement. The Government's job is to give defence a proper priority and to provide the necessary resources for the armed forces. That this Government do, and that, I must submit, the previous Labour Government did not do. Again, I make a political point in a debate that has been broadly one of consensus, because I remember well that the then Under-Secretary for the Air Force, Mr. James Wellbeloved, a man who unfortunately is no longer with us in the House, as almost his first action when he ceased to be Under-Secretary responsible for the Royal Air Force, asked Mr. Speaker for an Adjournment debate, and expressed his anxiety about the weakness of the RAF and the need for more aircraft in the RAF. I remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) replied to the debate on that occasion. If no other evidence is required, that is proof positive, because the very man responsible for the RAF was the one who made the complaint about the weakness of the RAF.
The main contribution I wish to make to the debate is not about flying at all, but about the RAF Regiment and its contribution as custodians at bases such as Greenham Common. Several hon. Members had the benefit of a visit to Greenham Common last week which allowed us to see the cruise missile systems and safeguards in their location at Greenham Common. The public perception of Greenham Common is based on television, radio and newspaper reporting of the women outside the gates. We see them lying down in front of cars, we see them shaking the perimeter wire — anything to get publicity for themselves and their simplistic views. They have failed in 473 their attempt to prevent the cruise missiles being deployed in this country, and they will not change the Government's mind.
Meanwhile, the cost of policing the large area at Greenham Common and protecting it against these misguided but mainly non-violent creatures is very large. The cost in the current year is estimated to be £3.7 million, involving 600,000 police hours, mainly overtime. Sixty per cent. of that large cost of £3.7 million will be borne by the taxpayers and 40 per cent. will be borne by the long-suffering ratepayers of Berkshire. If neither side gives in, it seems like a stalemate.
Where do we go from here? One possibility might be that we strengthen the perimeter wall. At present it is not a wall at all but a fence. It is the kind of fencing that would be more appropriate for keeping tennis balls in a tennis court than for keeping seriously intentioned people in or out of any specific area.
It might be possible to strengthen the perimeter fence or wall, but we must remember that the Russians and East Germans, even with their enormous concrete wall with watchtowers, searchlights and armed guards, cannot keep all their citizens in their area. So it would be unrealistic for us to imagine that by building a large perimeter wall we shall keep all the women protesters out of the base. That would not be an especially positive long-term contribution.
My constituents take a robust line in considering the damage done by the women at Greenham Common and the cost of their trespasses. They take the view that if the women appear not to like the police dogs, we should have more dogs on patrol with their police handlers inside the perimeter fence to deter the women from entering.
The real answer to the conundrum, the stalemate, lies in winning the media war. Let fact drive out myth and fiction. First, there is not very much at Greenham Common anyway. The cruise missile is fully transportable and the entire system could be kept in a large car park. It does not really need the secure compound at Greenham Common except that it provides a hard location within bunkers. The cruise missile base is nothing more than a bomb-proof garage.
Secondly, apart from the inner compound, there is not much of strategic importance at Greenham Common. It is important that the public should understand, for instance that the control tower is used only occasionally and has virtually nothing to do with the cruise missile radar system. The rest of the base, apart from the internal compound, consists of accommodation, workshops and stores of a comparatively unimportant security level.
Thirdly, the cruise missile is a classical deterrent weapon. Anyone seeking to design an offensive weapon would start from the opposite point of the compass to that at which we have ended up with the cruise missile. Cruise is slow and its design characteristics make it supremely unsuitable as a first-strike weapon. It is a weapon of deterrence.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman is advancing a dangerous argument. It is new technology that makes cruise so dangerous. For example, the cruise missile could be used in conjunction with first-strike missiles by being launched at the same time with the intention of taking out secondary targets. That is one of the reasons why it is seen 474 by some, not incorrectly, as a first-strike weapon. I accept that it is not a first-strike weapon in the sense of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
§ Mr. Viggers
I would not follow the hon. Gentleman very far along that line. I suppose that it is possible to create a scenario in which the cruise missile could be used as a first-strike weapon, but I think that that is as unlikely as the United States bringing the New Jersey to the North sea to bombard the British mainland. Much of the force of the argument lies in the conception of the individual, who will project his own thoughts on how the missiles might be used. The time that the cruise missile takes to get from its firing point to its eventual arrival point is so long that it would be unrealistic for any one to imagine that it would be used even as part of a first-strike offensive. It is not part of NATO thinking—as a delegate of the North Atlantic Assembly I hear these discussions taking place from time to time—that it should have a first-strike capacity. I accept that it is possible to invent such a scenario, but that is no part of the thinking of those who are responsible for the weapon system. It is certainly not part of the thinking of Her Majesty's Government.
A fourth fact is that a nuclear warhead is about the size of a large wastepaper basket. Demonstrators today at RAF Cottesmore were protesting about the possible use of Tornados to carry a nuclear bomb. Of course the Tornado could carry a nuclear bomb. For example, two nuclear bombs could be carried in the back of a Mini motor car. The protesters are protesting about the wrong thing at the wrong place.
How do we win the media war? How do we explain the facts to the public and how do we drive out myth and misunderstanding?
There are problems in dealing with the media war and I shall give three examples. First, on our visit to Greenham Common, 11 Conservative Members turned up in time to hear a briefing by the Royal Air Force and United States Air Force commanders. We spent some time on the base and then returned for a debriefing session. The three Labour representatives chose to turn up near the end of the preliminary briefing. They chose not to stay for the final briefing, saying that in their view there was no point in staying because their questions would not be answered. They went outside the base, put themselves in front of the television cameras and told the television personnel and the public that their worst fears had been realised. The media reported that event very fully. It was reported much more fully than the visit of the 11 Conservative Members who studied the systems and safeguards — they were reassured by the safeguards—and the effectiveness of the system. That is one example of the media war going the wrong way. The Times reported the visit of the three Labour Members who did not attend the briefings but did not report the attendance of the 11 Conservative members who did.
Secondly, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) followed up the media coverage by saying that he had been told that there had been a shot fired inside the Greenham Common base. That ended up as a Daily Mail headline on 20 January 1984, which read:Greenham guard 'fired at Ministry girl worker'".The fact that there are inverted commas round the final five words does not diminish the fact that the impact 475 created by the newspaper report was that a United States Air Force guard had fired at a civilian girl worker at Greenham Common.
Investigations have been made and it appears that there is no truth in the story. No one can trace anyone who has even heard a shot. No one can find a bullet or a used shell. However, the idea has been planted in people's minds that a United States guard shot at a civilian girl worker on the base. The story is just not true. It would become the right hon. Member for Llanelli to say that he has made an investigation and accepts that there is no truth in the story or, alternatively, to name his source. I wrote to him before today's debate to tell him that I would raise this issue during its course.
Thirdly, there is the occupation of the Greenham control tower. As I have said, the tower plays no part in the cruise missile system. However, the impression has been given by the newspapers that the women broke into the control tower to the very heart of the cruise missile system. That is not true.
Where does that leave us? For a politican to complain about the media is like a fish complaining about water. I am not complaining about the media. They are doing their job, for they are selling newspapers. However, we need to have a more balanced view projected of Greenham Common, the cruise missile system and the safeguards. I urge the Government to provide more television, radio and press facilities at Greenham Common. Let more of the people see the professionalism which has gone into making the system effective and safe. Why not allow television, radio and newspaper reporters to make exactly the same visit that Members of Parliament undertook last week, and to be briefed on the cruise missile system and the safeguards. These hellish nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented. As they exist, let us ensure that they remain available to us to deter war and maintain peace.
We must work to improve international understanding and reduce tension. That has nothing to do with the pathetic and trivial actions of the women at Greenham Common. I pay tribute to the work of the Royal Air Force Regiment, which is playing its part in our defence at Greenham Common. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to give more consideration to improving press facilities so that its work can be seen and there can be a spread of knowledge that will help to promote the facts and reduce the level of uninformed comment.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the plight of the Manchester division of British Aerospace plc., which has suffered 1,150 redundancies in the past 12 months. The work force is down to 5,850. The Manchester division comprises two factories — Chadderton and Woodford. I shall refer particularly to Woodford because that factory employs a large number of people living in my constituency of Stockport.
Woodford is one of our most famous aircraft factories. The Ansom was developed and built there, as were the Shackleton and the Nimrods, mark 1, 2 and 3. The expertise of the design and production workers is irreplaceable. That expertise has been built up during years of experience in the design and building of marine reconnaissance aircraft and others. It has been necessary 476 for our defences in the past, it is necessary now and it will be necessary into the next century with the building of the Nimrods mark 2 and 3.
In the third quarter of next year, the 2,000 men associated with the Nimrod activities will have nothing to do. That has serious implications for this country's defence system. That magnificent work force will be dispersed and lost for ever unless the Ministry of Defence steps in to help now. This country cannot allow that loss to happen. The skills of the work force are vital for our defences into the next century.
Woodford is not asking for handouts. It is asking not for work to be provided for the sake of it, but for orders for vital work for the mark 2 Nimrod. Decisions must be made by the Ministry of Defence now, not later, because later will be too late.
I do not wish to be alarmist, but yesterday I received an unsolicited letter from the co-ordinator of the joint union/management campaign, which stated:Dear Tony,I am sure you will have heard the recent announcement of a further 450 redundancies at the Manchester Division of British Aerospace. This recent announcement means that redundancies in the last 12 months now total 1,150, leaving a work force of only 5,850. Resulting from this please find enclosed a brief explaining a Joint Union/Management campaign for work crucial to the Manchester Division.The urgency of the campaign cannot be over-emphasised and any help you can give in ensuring the Government understands the context of the brief, and takes action accordingly, would be appreciated.I am aware that talks are going on between the company and the Ministry of Defence about a return to work programme involving air-to-air refuelling and wing strengthening. I urge the Minister to make a favourable decision on that programme now.
Today, I spoke to Mr. Norman Barber, the divisional managing director of the Manchester division of British Aerospace, and he endorsed the urgency of the matter. He said that the work force was now down to 5,850, and that figure has been reached on the basis of a return to work programme at the Manchester division, although that order has not yet been placed. He asked me to pass a message to the House. It is that there is aunique capability at Woodford of traditional aircraft airframe design supplemented by avionic integration and craftsmanship of the highest order as exemplified by the way the factory responded to the needs of the RAF operating in the Falklands campaign.
During that campaign the factory did magnificent work designing and equipping 16 Nimrod mark 2s with an inflight refuelling system, the first taking only 19 days from initial design to delivery. Such a capability cannot be allowed to go. It is vital to this nation that it is kept. In addition, during the Falklands campaign six Vulcan bombers were converted into tankers at Woodford and support was provided for the Victor tankers. Furthermore, Woodford armed Nimrod with Sidewinders and Harpoons. We cannot afford to lose that kind of capability. The situation is urgent and action is required now. I urge the Ministry of Defence to take immediate action.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
We have talked about the improvement and development of weaponry for the RAF at present and in the future. I wish to turn the minds of hon. Members to the future — especially to the need for an air-to-air fighter aircraft, which for some time has been the subject of discussions at the Ministry of Defence.
477 The ACA has been discussed as a concept, but it was finally scrapped because it was thought that other ideas could be brought forward. Fortunately—I congratulate the Government—the EAP demonstrator is being built, funded by the Government to the extent of 50 per cent. of the cost of the research. It is expected that that aircraft will fly in 1986. The project's purpose is to lay down the basis for an aircraft for the future to be developed.
At the moment there is a plan to build an aircraft, which has been referred to as FEFA, on a five-nation basis. It is important for the British aerospace industry, and especially the military section in Lancashire, that the project gets off the ground as quickly as possible. Will the Minister look carefully at the timetable for that project? About 15,000 workers at Warton, to which reference has been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) and for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), are dependent on the FEFA project. If that order is placed, it will go to those workers.
It is important that Britain is a major, not a minor, partner in this project. If we are to split the project with the French and West Germans, we should look for at least 25 per cent. of that project for Britain. We are in danger, unless we are more active and the Government push forward harder, of being a minor partner. The French are building a demonstrator called the ACX, which is similar to the one on which work is being conducted in the northwest — the EAP. If the French get there first and negotiate a larger share of the project than Britain, we shall find that we are Johnny-come-latelies with a small part of the project. That will have disastrous effects on employment in the north-west. The recent NORWIDA report on industry in the north-west described this as the region's most successful industry and the one that has best survived the recent recession.
This air-to-air aircraft will be needed not in the mid-1990s, but much earlier — by 1992 — for two sound reasons. First, British Aerospace has identified that there will be a world market for an aircraft of this kind at that time. As we have heard, the Americans are studying European air forces and have recognised the need for such an aircraft. They will therefore be competing in the market. Secondly, the RAF must keep abreast with the best possible equipment that modern technology can devise. That means looking very carefully at the situation in the Warsaw pact countries. There may have been a time when our air forces were better equipped militarily than theirs, but that is no longer true.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Aviation Week, an unclassified periodical, has been describing the latest Warsaw pact fighter aircraft in considerable detail. It is highly sophisticated. The rate of production of fighter aircraft in Warsaw pact countries far exceeds our own. That emphasises the need for a new European fighter.
§ Mr. Hind
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. When one compares the estimated 13 per cent. or 14 per cent. of GDP spent by the Warsaw pact with the amount spent by NATO, it is clear that Warsaw pact equipment will improve as time goes on. It is already superior numerically in fixed-wing aircraft, and it is essential that we keep ahead in the quality of aircraft that we produce. The new FEFA is thus both urgent and important. We do not want to find in the 1990s that we have been left behind by the superior technology of the Warsaw pact, because the 478 balance between the two sides will become worse as the Warsaw pact will be superior not only numerically but in the quality of its equipment.
At present this country has the capacity to produce a total weapons system. We have the engines, the frames and the avionics. It has been proved that we can produce an aircraft without the assistance of partnerships with other countries. I believe that the research and development and the expense involved in building such aircraft is such that it would be foolish for one nation to go it alone—it makes economic sense to work side by side with others—but we must not allow ourselves to become a minor partner in any project, especially a project such as the FEFA, leading to the eventual destruction of the industrial capacity that has served us to such great advantage in times past.
Constituents of mine who are employed by British Aerospace have expressed concern that if the project is not pressed forward, there will be redundancies in that area of industry in the future. The argument for bringing forward the FEFA project to 1992, with a view to having the British aircraft in service by then, is unanswerable. By 1992 the Phantoms and Jaguars currently performing that role will be outdated and in need of replacement. We must work towards that time scale.
Another real danger for the aerospace industry is that if our capacity to produce a total aircraft is allowed to slide away, we shall become merely an ancillary — an assembler of Meccano parts. We shall not be producing the designs or the engineering skills and a great industry will decline. It is the most important industry in the Preston and west Lancashire area, employing 15,000 people. The project is therefore not only important for Britain, but vital for that area.
The go-ahead for the development programme must be given by the end of 1984 if there is to be any possibility of the aircraft being in service by 1992. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that most seriously. I hope that he will also set at rest the fears expressed by people in Lancashire who are concerned about this project. Will he give us some idea of the stage reached in the planning process and tell us how far discussions with our partners in the FEFA project have progressed? That will reassure many people—those who are concerned about when the aircraft will be in service and those whose jobs depend on it. The project is vitally important. There is a real need for the aircraft, and the sooner we have it the better.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
In opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the RAF as being in fine fettle and gave us a very good picture of the modernisation schemes afoot. I broadly agree with what he said, but it is the more remarkable that the RAF is in such good shape when one looks back over the past decade. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said, in the 1970s the RAF was in a very poor state. It suffered disproportionate cuts in manpower when drastic economies were made throughout defence. It suffered cuts in transport planes. It also suffered a loss of morale due to falling behind in pay, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport pointed out. All this led to an exodus of highly trained and experienced pilots on such a scale that the RAF was in danger of bleeding to death and this placed enormous strain on those who remained to try to 479 keep the operational capability going. When one considers all that, it is virtually a miracle that the RAF is in the fine fettle that my hon. Friend the Minister described.
However, I am not entirely uncritical of certain aspects; in particular, I join hon. Friends who referred to the delays in getting the new Nimrod AEW going. With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Minister, it seemed to me that he glossed over the difficulties experienced and cast doubt on the criticisms by such correspondents as Desmond Wettern of the Daily Telegraph. I am not in a position to know the precise truth about it or to what extent he is right, but I understand that it was originally intended that the first of these mark 3 aircraft should have come into service either in 1981 or 1982. It is now the beginning of 1984, and they are still not with us. I do not know how long it will be before they are. The Minister owes it to the House to tell us when we may expect them, because it is a most dangerous gap in our defences, which worries me and which cannot be glossed over as it has been. That is a remarkable case of what is fashionably called "slippage".
I refer to the Jet Provost. The Minister believes that the Government were almost ready to decide whether to have a jazzed-up Provost—my term, not his—or to go for a new design. Again, the time scale is obscure. When can we expect a decision, if it is a new design? I have happy memories of the old design. In a rash moment I allowed myself to be taken up in a Jet Provost, and when I landed neither my stomach nor my knees seemed to belong to me. It is a very startling aircraft for anyone not used to it. They were even rash enough to allow me to take the controls, albeit under very heavy guidance. For that reason I have a certain affection for the aircraft.
We need to know what is to happen and how soon a new one, in whatever form that may be, will be available for training, because it is a vital part of the professionalism of the RAF. We must have a constant stream of highly trained pilots coming through.
That brings me to a point that has not yet been touched on—the training of pilots. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) drew our attention to its extraordinary cost and mentioned a cost of £2.2 million to take someone from the outset to the point when he is ready to join a squadron for operation.
§ Miss Fookes
My hon. Friend says that that was the cost in 1981. I take it, therefore, that we can add more to that now. Although the Government have curbed inflation, they have not succeeded completely.
That means that there is an enormous input into an individual pilot. We are therefore entitled to ask whether people succeed in going right through the system. I recall that a few years ago there was a disturbingly high failure rate. Perhaps it is understandable when we see precisely how difficult it is to fly these very advanced aircraft, but we should be told what the failure rate is and how much it costs in money terms, bearing in mind the £2.2 million-plus that it costs.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
My hon. Friend makes a most important point. As an instructor on Jet Provost aircraft 18 years ago, can I ask the Minister in his reply to my hon. Friend's excellent point to take on board the merits of the United States' navy's VTXTS training system. It is a 480 computerised system geared to the ability of the pilot, with a series of lessons and a syllabus geared to his personal aptitude. Our present and past syllabuses have been rigid and inflexible and if a student is slow at one stage, he is eliminated at great cost.
§ Miss Fookes
That is a most excellent point, which I could not have made myself. I am grateful for that additional information.
An entirely different matter touched on in the Minister's speech was the protection of airfields, which is absolutely vital not only in the United Kingdom but in our RAF bases in Germany, which would be in the front line if there were to. be hostilities between ourselves and the Soviet bloc. I should be interested to know how far the hardening of airfields and installations has gone. I saw something of it when visiting RAF Germany last autumn, but I am not clear how far advanced the programme is. I should welcome assurances from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when he winds up, or later by letter, if that should prove necessary.
Another matter is the protection of airfields in peacetime from the efforts of saboteurs or terrorists. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport went into considerable detail about the difficulties caused by peace protesters at places such as Greenham Common. However, it does not stop there. Difficult though that may be, we also must face the fact that the bases would be excellent targets for anyone ill-disposed towards us, such as terrorists or saboteurs. I hope that there will be considerable strengthening of defences in peacetime against such a possibility, which would be dangerous for us.
In that connection, we might strengthen the RAF Regiment, even to the point where it might have more dogs at its disposal. I visited only recently the barracks at Stonehouse, Plymouth, in my constituency. At the moment there are three guard dogs, with three more to come. The people at the barracks said that the dogs were invaluable in supplementing the efforts of the men on the ground. If that is so, it must follow that dogs would be valuable for the RAF installations. Of course, there is the major difficulty that often airfields and installations are spread out. The best example is at RAF Akrotiri, which is the biggest of our RAF bases. That must make for more difficulties. I should have thought that more guard dogs and trained dogs would be extremely useful for guarding our airfields.
We are progressing on the right lines, apart from on the two points that I made in criticism. I look forward to the RAF going from strength to strength. There are fine traditions in the RAF. I am sure that in future it will build on them to the benefit of the country and, indeed, for the freedom of the western world.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I am one of the few Opposition Members who have spoken in virtually every service debate for 10 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) shares that distinction. For 10 years it has been my lot in life to follow exceedingly silly speeches by Conservative Members. However, today is a rare exception. It is my pleasure and honour to follow a speech of considerable vision and depth of understanding delivered by the hon. Member for 481 Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), our Chairman of the Committee on the Ordnance Factories and Military Services Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), in the introduction to his speech, criticised Members for delving too deeply into defence matters and developing too great an expertise in technical matters. Had he been here, I should have liked politely to counter that. It is easy to make generalised, gung-ho, or pacifist speeches. They are usually brushed off with derision by those who happen to make the decisions. Unless on both sides of the House there are hon. Members sufficiently knowledgeable to question and challenge, the Executive will be even more dominant in decision-making. Therefore, it is incumbent upon many hon. Members to seek to develop expertise so that they can comprehend and influence the exceedingly complex processes of defence and national security.
I apologise for not having been here for the whole of the debate, but I have heard many of the half-truths and misunderstandings expressed by several hon. Members. We heard from the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) a regurgitation of the widely expressed view that somehow the Labour party has a "shameful" record on defence. Many of my hon. Friends might regard that as a compliment. There are on these Benches hon. Members who would have liked the Labour party, when in office, to take a much less serious attitude towards defence. However, when confronted with the kind of nonsense that we have heard from some Conservative Members, reality is different.
When the Labour party was in office from 1974 to 1979, even though there were adjustments in defence expenditure, it would be unfair to argue that we underestimated the problems of defence. After all, the programme for the introduction of the Tornados that are coming on stream was hardly retarded by the Labour Government. Therefore, it was unfair of the hon. Member for Gosport to echo what was said a few years ago by a spokesman for the Conservatives in opposition about one of our Ministers having done more damage to the Royal Air Force than the Luftwaffe. That was a dangerous and silly statement and I hope that that kind of view will be retracted.
The other extreme observation is that somehow a Conservative Government are good for defence. The reality is different. One expects the Conservative party to do what it promised when in opposition, but that does not happen. The morale of civil servants in the Ministry of Defence is low for many reasons which we have been discussing in Standing Committee—the privatisation of ordnance factories and erratic decision-making at the top in the Ministry. I except the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who are listening and hopefully learning a little about defence. Morale is low among some service men. As a member of the Select Committee on Defence one sees the attitude of service men. Some may be enthusiastic, but others are less enthusiastic about Government policy. Civil servants and service men are worried that the cuts will bite deeply.
I have no desire to repeat the arguments that I have used on many occasions about the consequences of the Trident programme, which, despite repeated denials from the Government, will have an adverse effect on the remainder of the conventional budget. Now the Government are 482 adding another function to the four they already have in defence, namely, the defence of the Falkland Islands. Unless serious, reasonable and intelligent decisions are made, scarce resources which should be devoted exclusively to our NATO contribution will be permanently diverted to the South Atlantic. That does not mean, as was said earlier, that perhaps we should settle swiftly. Even though there is a democratic Government in Argentina, as yet I have seen no evidence that the procurement programme of their dictatorial, bureaucratic, military predecessors has been curtailed.
Argentina's armed forces may be under more political conrol, but until their capacity to launch an attack is diminished the Government must proceed carefully. The Argentine Government may show a genuine interest in reaching a settlement, but that does not mean that they should instantly acquire what they failed to acquire by force. There must be some form of compromise. I hope that our air of realism will eventually waft from the Opposition Benches across to the Government and that the Falklands dispute will be settled to the satisfaction of all parties to the dispute. My great worry is that if we do not resolve the dispute, our scarce resources will be diverted dangerously.
Some Conservative Members are worried about the consequences of Trident. I accept that some are enthusiastic supporters of Trident, but some share the cynicism of the majority of the population. I recognise that the general election and the opinion polls have shown that most people, including Labour voters, are in favour of Britain remaining a nuclear power, but I have some reservations about that. However, if Britain is to remain a nuclear power—which I would oppose—there are cheaper alternatives to Trident which would not result in disastrous consequences for the conventional budget.
I advise hon. Members to read an excellent document produced by Aberdeen Studies in Defence Economics last summer, entitled "Alternative to Trident". It was written by Mr. David Hobbs, who said:To sum up: the students of British defence affairs who recognise the case for retention of an independent nuclear capability but baulk at the considerable multiplication of fire power and the massive expense which the government's Trident D5 programme involves—these people's misgivings cannot be dismissed with the brusque assertion that there is no alternative (to coin a phrase). There are a number, and that number runs into double figures".I am not proposing Mr. Hobbs' course of action, but Conservative Members who are desperately anxious that Britain remains a viable contributor to NATO defence should be concerned that the price will be the decimation of the conventional forces. That will happen.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence. Following its present inquiry into the performance of weapons systems in the Falklands, it intends to study the consequences for defence of the abandonment by the Government of their commitment to a real increase of 3 per cent. in defence expenditure which was given to NATO in 1977. Many Opposition Members would be ecstatic if the Government abandoned their commitment. The Select Committee will consider the consequences of such action and make recommendations. The Treasury hand is behind the study, as it is behind many of the wrong decisions that have been made by Government over the years.
I wish that the hon. Member for Drake was still in the Chamber. At our Committee meeting this morning I 483 wanted to make a point which I realised that she, as Chairman, would rule out of order—on procedural, not political, grounds. The point is that the dead hand of the Treasury in defence affairs—and notably in the RAF until the mid-1930s—created what could have been a disaster.
Then, as now, the Treasury seemed more concerned about inflation than defence. It was undoubtedly the principal initiator in the 1920s and 1930s of the reduction in British defences, and bears a heavy responsibility for the policy of retrenchment that was carried out at the expense of defence. It was not until the mid-1930s that Treasury orthodoxy began to change, and that led to an improvement in our defence capabilities, which was thankfully sufficient to save us from catastrophe between 1939 and 1945.
Today, the Treasury would still like to exercise the same pernicious influence and would do so, in many ways, for the wrong reasons and for different reasons from those that I have already mentioned. However, Britain faces the almost insoluble problem of trying to achieve improvements in our defence posture at a cost that will not cripple our national economy.
It is easy for Conservative Members to exaggerate the threat. However, it is just as foolish to exaggerate as to underestimate the threat from our potential adversaries. In seeking a middle road of not being too alarmist or too complacent, one must consider the problems facing the RAF. I hope that there will never be a conflict involving conventional weapons that leads to a nuclear conflict, but we must remember that the battery of weapons available to our potential adversaries is formidable.
The Soviet Union's accumulation of weapons systems is way in excess of its security needs. It leads us to the conclusion that the West has been preoccupied with the problems of nuclear weaponry, and far less prepared to recognise the considerable increase in the number and quality of Soviet aircraft. At one time, the fact that NATO was greatly outnumbered was not thought alarming, because the Soviet Union's superiority in numbers was thought to be more than compensated for by our technology and the quality of our pilots. However, in recent years its numbers have been increasing, and the quality of its personnel and equipment has been improving and is now giving rise to anxiety.
Let us consider the current generation of fighters and the aircraft coming on stream in the Soviet Union. There is the MiG31, the Foxhound — which has recently entered service—and the MiG29, code named Fulcrum. By 1986 the Soviet air force will have introduced, in that part of the decade alone, at least one new type of supersonic bomber, the Blackjack, which is bigger than the proposed Rockwell B1B which has been resuscitated by President Reagan.
By the middle of the decade the Soviet Union will have developed a ground attack aircraft and three new fighters. It is also in the process of introducing the world's largest military transport airplane, the Condor. Although that does not mean that we should head immediately for our underground shelters, we must recognise that we must develop a system of air defence that will be equal to the task should deterrence fail.
It is therefore important to look at the real and imaginary progress made under this Government. The 484 Conservative party claims to be the party of defence. The previous Labour Government were regularly criticised rather hysterically for having reduced our defence airplanes to just over 70. That was the claim made in 1978. Since then, the Tory "crash" programme for arming the Hawks has been painfully slow, and only now are the Government starting to honour the pledge made in 1979.
Although the Hawks are being armed, the Hawk is essentially a trainer. It has no radar. If it goes out to intercept a potential enemy, it must have assistance to find that enemy. With modern technology, the enemy would be very likely to release its deadly load before the Hawk was anywhere near it. The Hawk may be fast by some standards, but by the standards of the modern Soviet air force it would be inadequate.
One can juggle with the statistics, adding the aging, though good, Lightnings and the unarmed Hawks, and make the figures seem much more impressive than they really are. As part of their stop-gap measures the Government are purchasing old Phantoms—the F4J— from the United States navy. Will there not be problems in servicing these planes? They are equipped with General Electric engines, while our Phantoms are equipped with the Rolls-Royce Spey.
I come to the saga of the Nimrod AEW. The Nimrod was chosen because of the delays and problems experienced with AWACS. The introduction of the AEW has been delayed, and until it is introduced our air defences will be vulnerable.
The hon. Member for Drake rightly spoke about home defence. No doubt that will be one of the themes of the defence White Paper. It may be that we have neglected home defence and that the Government recognise that and are acting accordingly.
We have heard a great deal today about France as an industrial adversary. We must not forget that France is also a military ally. France may not belong to the integrated military structure of NATO, but it belongs to the political structure of NATO. I have visited France several times recently and examined French defence policy. In the event of a conflict, France—like any sovereign nation and any member of the Alliance—will have to make a decision, but the extent of France's contribution to the defence of western Europe would surprise those who view France with indifference or hostility.
The action which the French are taking in bringing into effect their rapid deployment force—the Force Action Rapide — are not designed with journeys to central Africa and Asia in mind. I believe that the principal purpose of the French rapid deployment force is to come to the assistance of its NATO Allies. It should do as much to reassure the Germans of French solidarity as to encourage those who believe that the French may be prepared to embark on military adventures in other parts of the world. There has been a great deal of publicity— largely adverse—in recent weeks about the emerging NATO strategies for enhancing conventional capability. There is nothing immoral about enhancing conventional capability. If we could counter a conventional Soviet attack by adequate conventional defence — at the moment I do not believe that we could do so — the likelihood of that conflict escalating into a nuclear war would be diminished.
Those who are swift to condemn the new thinking should think more carefully. The policy of enhancing conventional deterrence is partly a result of the desirability 485 of raising the nuclear threshold, in the light of considerable public concern about the role of nuclear weapons in Alliance strategy. Technical advances have taken place and should be exploited. They could result in a dramatic improvement in our conventional capability and would undoubtedly make a nuclear holocaust much less likely. The people who criticise some of the new thinking should appraise the position more realistically.
I apologise for detaining the House for so long.
§ Mr. McNamara
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to speak again.
This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. Fortunately, every hon. Member who wished to speak has been able to do so. If, therefore, my remarks are somewhat short and I do not deal with every argument raised, I trust that I shall be forgiven. Unfortunately, I cannot say as the Minister can, "I will write to you." [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am prepared to send letters to all hon. Members. I shall not be sending any letters from Norway this year, but I shall be happy to receive them.
I want to take issue on an important point. The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke of the "trivial" conduct of the women at Greenham Common and elsewhere. Whether or not one approves of what they are doing, it is not trivial. For many of those women it is a courageous demonstration, over a long time in harsh conditions, to draw the attention of this country and the world — I believe they have been successful — to the terror that will face us if we have a nuclear holocaust. They wish also to show the evil, the foolishness and the bad military thinking behind bringing cruise to this country. Many people support what the Government are doing about cruise. Nevertheless, they take off their hats to the women of Greenham for having the courage of their convictions and for their persistence in difficult circumstances. I also take off my hat to them. I cannot therefore agree with what the hon. Member for Gosport said.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government have lost a media war over that matter. Many people would be worried if there were a return to the type of publicity on this issue that came from the Secretary of State for Defence before the general election. It was a bad precedent. We do not wish to see it repeated.
The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) asked earlier why we did not have Firecracker. The answer that I should have given, instead of my little spiel in favour of my constituency interest, is that it is not a turbo-fan aeroplane. People involved with the RAF and the industry believe that a return to the turbo-prop aeroplane would be a step backwards for pilot training and that it would be far better to have the turbo-fan. I believe that that leaves only the Brough and the Italian aircraft in the running.
It is important that we should have the quick decision, about which the Minister of State hinted earlier. Flight International reported that we have already ordered 20 pairs of new wings for replacement on the Provost. Such expenditure will go on and on while we are waiting for decisions to be taken. I should not like to see a great deal of the money to which I referred earlier spent before a decision is made. We shall obviously have to retain the Provost in service until we obtain the new aeroplane, 486 whether it comes off the shelf or from elsewhere. We do not want to spend a great deal of money on the Provost if we can avoid it.
Another interesting point to emerge from the debate is that from a party which won an election on the basis of less Government intervention and direction in industry has come a plea for more Government expenditure, in particular on the ACA, but, interestingly, also on Nimrod; and hon. Members have referred to the importance that that has for the Manchester division of British Aerospace.
I do not carp at any hon. Member claiming work for his constituents. It is a proper activity for us all. Therefore, my hon. Friends and I join Conservative Members in urging early decisions on these matters. We need early decisions to assure the work force at every level what the future holds for it, to restore morale and to show that the Government are determined to act in these matters.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) made the major point on that aspect—I say that not to belittle anything that his hon. Friends said, but he put his finger on it—when he said that there was a real danger that we might become a minor partner in the industrial complex that would build the new fighter. That would be damaging for the whole future of British Aerospace. Therefore, we must not let it happen.
Concern was also expressed about the Nimrod programme. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) thought that it was a waste of time and effort to use it for coastguard work. He thought that it should return to a more pertinent RAF role than be used for fishery protection and similar matters. The hon. Gentleman said there were other options open for it. Unfortunately, I was not in the Chamber to hear his speech, but I am told that it was, as usual, highly competent, and I am not sure whether the question of the Coastguarder suddenly raised its head again.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am pleased to hear that. It is an aeroplane that is adequate in its technology to meet such needs, and it would release Nimrod for its proper role.
We had a statement from that distinguished and fine parliamentarian, the Chairman of the Committee on the Ordnance Factories and Military Services Bill, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), who put it in a more refined way than I did when she said that the Minister had "glossed over" the history of why Nimrod had been late in coming into operation. It is important for us to be aware of the facts behind that. Many of us have urged that further efforts should be made to push forward the Nimrod programme to get it into service with the RAF more quickly. We should like to know for certain that the major teething problems that the aeroplane had—which forced the RAF not to accept it immediately after its Boscombe Down trials—have been overcome. May we be told the date when it will come into full operation with the RAF? That is important for our national defence and for the industry.
Another point that ties in with what the hon. Members for Drake and for Ruislip-Northwood mentioned relates to reserves and adequate training. Many would support the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood that more attention should be paid to the RAF Reserve, not only for reasons of cost, which he advocated, but because—this point struck my right hon. Friend the 487 Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) strongly — combat fatigue and battle attrition could affect the supply of pilots at crucial times in a long war. That is true, and we should like to hear the Minister's comments on it.
My hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out that with the problems associated with the Falklands, the RAF was considerably overstretched and in difficulties. I suggested the use of the Hawk. That suggestion should be pursued, because it would release the Phantoms to return to the United Kingdom for their proper role.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) mentioned the political strategy behind policy making. He also raised the important matter of the nuclear role of Tornado and, by implication, of Buccaneer and Jaguar. The Opposition are worried about the nuclear role of those aircraft. We do not like it and want it stopped. We also want the stocks of weaponry in Germany, which are often close to the border, taken away from such areas. If, as the hon. Member for Drake said, aerodromes on the forward line, which are difficult to defend, are overrun, that weaponry could be captured. Losing it could precipitate the end to which none of us look forward.
This has been an interesting debate. I have not covered all of the points that have been raised. I suspect, however, that the Minister will have to give a great deal of information and write many letters.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)
It is customary to begin a winding-up speech by saying how wide-ranging the debate has been. Mine shall be no exception tonight, but I should just like to say a few words about the wide range of the Royal Air Force and its deployment.
I shall attempt to deal with as many of the points that have been made as I can but I want to set all of those remarks in their proper context. In doing so it is inevitable that there will be a limited overlap with some of the points made earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
Overall, the Royal Air Force has some 73,000 personnel in more than 25 front-line airfields and bases. This year we are spending approximately £5.3 billion on maintaining and re-equipping these substantial and, as my hon. Friend said earlier, growing forces. Naturally, the major part is deployed within the United Kingdom. The RAF is responsible for providing comprehensive air defence of the United Kingdom. Currently it has six squadrons of fighter aircraft in this role — two of Lightnings and four of Phantoms — which will be augmented by another Phantom squadron later this year. In addition, 72 Hawk advanced trainers are being modified so that they can carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and in due course the introduction of the Tornado F2 will greatly enhance our fighter strength.
Warning of air attack is provided by the United Kingdom air defence ground environment.
§ Mr. McNamara
I heard from the Minister of State that 24 of the Hawks have been so modified. Is that the precise figure, and when are the rest of them likely to be finished?
§ Mr. Lee
My understanding is that the figure of 24 is correct and that the remainder are in the pipeline, but I 488 cannot give a precise in-service date. The air defence ground environment embraces a chain of radar stations and a squadron of Shackleton airborne early warning aircraft which will be replaced by the Nimrod AEW. In addition to these air defence forces there are now three squadrons of Tornado strike-attack aircraft which are operational and two Jaguar and one Harrier squadrons. Although based in the United Kingdom, these aircraft could operate in time of war on the central front or on NATO's flanks. In the maritime role, four squadrons of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft make a substantial contribution to anti-submarine operations. A further two Buccaneer squadrons at Lossiemouth and two Phantom squadrons at RAF Leuchars provide strike-attack and air defence respectively in support of the Royal Navy.
The RAF's United Kingdom based transport force consists of four squadrons of Hercules and one squadron of VC10 aircraft. There are also four squadrons of support and medium-lift helicopters. Finally, there are two squadrons of Victor tankers and the six Tristars which we bought early last year.
Overseas, the largest deployment of the RAF is in Germany and assigned to NATO's central region. There are four main operational stations there—at Laarbruch which I visited before Christmas, Wildenrath, Gutersloh and Bruggen—and some 11,000 RAF personnel.
By April this year the RAF will have two squadrons of Tornados and five squadrons of Jaguars, one in the reconnaissance role, in Germany. Progressively, the Jaguars are being replaced by six further squadrons of Tornado GR1s. In addition, there are two squadrons of Phantoms for air defence, and two of Harrier GR3s for offensive support operations, together with one squadron each of Chinook and Puma support helicopters, as well as communications aircraft and Rapier airfield defence missiles. Outside the NATO area, the RAF makes a significant contribution to the Falklands garrison with Phantoms, Chinooks, Sea Kings, Hercules, Harrier GR3s and Rapier surface-to-air missiles for air defence, and Victor and Hercules tankers are stationed at Ascension Island to support the air bridge.
Here I would like to deal with two questions raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). First, we retain sufficient tankers in the European theatre to meet our immediate requirements, should an emergency arise. The remainder can be returned in sufficient time to meet our requirements for the build-up of ready forces. The second question concerns Mount Pleasant runway. The hon. Gentleman raised the point that the runway in his view would be too short for civil airliners. I have to say that such reports, and what the hon. Gentleman said, are not true. Civil as well as military requirements were taken into account in planning the airfield. It will be able to accept any wide-bodied aircraft, and civil aircraft such as those operated by British Airways and British Caledonian will be able to fly non-stop to Dacca with a full load of passengers. I also note the comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) on the Falklands deployment.
To continue on the world deployment, in Hong Kong, there is a detachment of eight Wessex helicopters and there are four Pumas, four Harriers and four Rapier fire units in Belize. Elsewhere in Europe there is a small RAF presence on Gibraltar to operate the airfield, and the RAF also has a detachment of Wessex, helicopters stationed in Cyprus.
489 Currently, as is known to the House, Phantoms and Buccaneers are detached to Cyprus in support of BRITFORLEB.
The issue that has dominated the debate probably is the question of the future of the European fighter FEFA. This was raised initially by the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) who spoke with considerable passion about that area of Lancashire and industry's needs there, and the skill and expertise within the Warton Samlesbury complex. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) spoke as usual in strong support of the Warton complex. If I may say so, I think his speeches are increasingly respected in this area by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), who is not now present, mentioned the FEFA aircraft also, in particular the engine problem. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) also mentioned FEFA, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), who is also not present in the Chamber. My hon. Friend also mentioned subcontractors, and the importance of the subcontracting industry in Lancashire to the prime contractor at Warton. I share a degree of concern about this, because a number of British Aerospace subcontractors are in my constituency of Pendle.
I should like to set out the history and development of this project, because there is some confusion. In the late 1970s, work commenced on the drafting of an air staff target for a Harrier/Jaguar replacement. This was AST 403. It proved impossible to reconcile the characteristics of such diverse designs in one aircraft, so it was decided to deal with them separately. The Harrier requirement became ASR 409, in other words Harrier GR5, and AST 403 proceeded as the Jaguar replacement alone. Then, in the course of the 1981 defence review, it became apparent that we would not be able to afford AST 403, and the project was shelved. Command 8288 published in June 1981 said:It is clear that we shall not be able to afford any direct and early replacement for the Jaguar force in Germany and at home".Command 8288 understandably caused considerable disappointment to industry. Both inside and outside the Ministry, AST 403 was prominently identified with the requirement for a next generation fighter, and British Aerospace in particular was concerned about its post-Tornado work programme. It responded to Cmnd. 8288 by promoting two new commercial design concepts in quick succession during 1982—P110 and ACA—for an agile fighter with Canard-Delta geometry and advanced technology. The ACA concept superseded P110 as a private venture project by British Aerospace in collaboration with its German and Italian Tornado partners. It suggested that the MOD should be involved in funding P110 and ACA, but the Secretary of State's predecessor was unwilling to do this and offered instead a jointly funded British Aerospace-MOD demonstrator programme called EAP, the experimental aircraft programme.
We now move on to the RAF requirement, as described in the announcement of December 1983 about an air staff agreement on an outline European staff target for a future European fighter aircraft. The agreement was signed between the air staffs of the United Kingdom, West Germany, France—I was particularly interested in the 490 comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, South on France — Italy and Spain. It related to a single-seat, twin-engined, agile, short-take-off-and-landing fighter for introduction in the 1990s, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House earlier. In accordance with normal practice, it is envisaged that a United Kingdom covering version of this outline staff target will be issued as an air staff target.
As announced already, the size of programme will be in the range of 800 aircraft. It is too early to say what each national share of the total will be and exactly how the programme will develop. The next stage, however, will clearly have to be pre-feasibility and feasibility studies leading, we hope, to a project definition phase within a year or so from now.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the attention that he has paid to detail. To get all the initials right is an achievement in itself. Will he deal with the problem of the engine for this aircraft? Is it likely to be the RB199AG20 or the SNECMAM 28? I know that he will deal with the issue carefully as the outcome could have a considerable effect on British industry.
§ Mr. Lee
I shall deal with that but not, with respect, tonight.
Development and production would follow, but clearly it is impossible at present to be completely firm on the time scale for those activities. I am not prepared to speculate on these matters and on how the precise options involve United Kingdom industry.
Nevertheless, I think it is clear that any such programme will require a very substantial involvement by British Aerospace, particularly by its Warton division in north-west Lancashire. I have been to Warton twice, the last time just over a month ago with a number of my parliamentary colleagues. I was enormously impressed by the design, development and production facilities there. The facilities and the expertise of the teams that work there are a unique Lancashire asset and a unique national asset. Many hon. Members have referred to them and I can assure the House that the relevant needs and considerations are very much in mind in that area. I reiterate the concern that so many of us have for the subcontractors to this potential fighter programme.
The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber and my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for South Ribble referred to Nimrods and maritime air capability. Last November I had the opportunity and the honour to visit RAF Kinloss. I flew in a Nimrod on a combined maritime, surveillance and anti-submarine training sortie over the north-west approaches. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock) was on the flight. We were both on the flight deck to see the first air-to-air refuelling between a VC10 tanker and a Nimrod in squadron service. With the Nimrod mark 2—nearly all Nimrods have been modified to that standard—we have one of the world's finest submarine hunters. Additionally, the surveillance capability of the Nimrod AEW aircraft will prove extremely valuable in the early detection and tracking of enemy surface ships.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) raised the important subject of reconnaissance and surveillance. As he recognised, we devote considerable resources to those tasks and our 491 capability in that area will be enhanced as Tornado GR1 comes into service. We must recognise, as I am sure my hon. Friend will, that our American allies have great experience and technological expertise, and we must work in partnership rather than try to reproduce that capability.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), for South Ribble and for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North referred to the delay in the Nimrod AEW. I am prepared to say that the present position is that the Nimrod AEW is being evaluated for training release. If that proves satisfactory, delivery will commence later this year. There have been delays in this project, but one must remember that it is immensely complex, with a high level of technical uncertainty. I hope that hon. Members will understand why I cannot go into more detail.
The subject of Nimrod servicing has caused deep anxiety to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). Contractor support is necessary throughout the service life of any aircraft operated by the RAF. Obviously, the manufacturer is the final source of expertise on the aircraft. The RAF has neither the capacity nor the wish to engage in areas of design work or major modifications that are appropriate to the design authority. In the case of Nimrod, this is British Aerospace. Of course, an operational unit incorporates minor modifications. For the Nimrod this is done at the Nimrod major servicing unit at RAF Kinloss, which has developed considerable expertise on the aircraft through doing major servicing. When extensive modifications are done by the design authority, we prefer to use a contractor's working party rather than return to the factory, as this allows the work to be done at the same time as more routine servicing tasks.
Furthermore, the basis of the current work distribution between design authority and operator is the result of longstanding policy. The value of this was demonstrated during Operation Corporate when British Aerospace did a magnificent job in modifying Nimrods for such roles as air-to-air refuelling, while the RAF recovered aircraft from the Nimrod major servicing unit before deploying that unit in support of operations.
We are always willing to discuss how we can help out, and discussions are in progress on possible future modifications to the Nimrod MR2, which may involve a return to works programme for British Aerospace Woodford based on air-to-air refuelling, and fin and wing strengthening. I note that at present there is a considerable shortage of work in the Manchester division.
§ Mr. Favell
I hope that I have made it clear how urgent is the need for a decision on this return to work programme. It is of critical importance to Woodford in keeping together the important design and production staff there. It is vital that a favourable decision is made without delay. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of that.
§ Mr. Lee
I hear everything that my hon. Friend says, and we will take that matter seriously.
The question of the Coastguarder was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood and for Dumfries and by the hon. Member for Eccles. At present, in peacetime, the RAF Nimrods carry out surveillance and offshore patrols for civil Departments. Those activities would, of course, cease in time of tension. The 492 Coastguarder is currently being considered, along with other suitable aircraft, to supplement the Nimrod maritime patrol force. Although the Coastguarder is being looked at for use in a role several years hence, it is no more than one of a number of options under consideration, and there is no immediate prospect of any purchase of the Coastguarder by the Ministry of Defence.
A number of hon. Members raised the question of the reserves and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The volunteer element of the Royal Air Force Reserves comprises the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, a small highly skilled force composed mainly of intelligence officers, and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The latter is currently made up of six regiment field squadrons in the airfield defence role, three maritime headquarters units in support of maritime operations, a movements squadron and a recently formed aeromedical evacuation squadron. Additional regiment field squadrons are planned to form over the next decade and the possibility of forming missile defence and helicopter squadrons is being examined.
The response to recruitment for these auxiliary squadrons has been extremely encouraging, with retention rates far higher than were expected. The calibre of recruits and their keenness to become fully effective has mean that the transition from untrained to fully operational units has been achieved in a satisfactorily short period.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
My hon. Friend has thrown out a lot of Whitehall chaff, but we need to be precise. I asked about the Wessex issue and the study initiative following the White Paper two or three years ago. Is it not time that that relatively straightforward study reached a favourable conclusion of at least a trial squadron to evaluate the principle?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I asked about the very serious presentation in The Scotsman on the Computer Network 102 and Platform.
§ Mr. Lee
Perhaps I may finish what I was saying about the reserves. The volunteer units serve a very real need, release skilled regular personnel for operational duties and are a most cost-effective means of enhancing the capability of the RAF as a whole.
No decision has been taken to reintroduce a flying role for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. That remains under study. The problem is one of resources. In addition to the aircrew war appointments scheme a substantial number of ex-short-service officers have a reserve liability.
I shall deal rather more quickly with the less major points raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) asked about strengthening the fence at Greenham Common and winning the media war. We shall take very serious note of his comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble talked about the problems of IFF. The current systems will become inadequate to meet the developing electronic threat. With our NATO partners we are developing a new system to meet the requirements of the 1990s and beyond. We attach great importance to that. Meanwhile, we are monitoring the scope for interim improvements and a number of such measures are in hand.
493 My hon. Friend also asked about Hawk sales to the United States. The Hawk VTX programme is fully funded. It was included in the President's budget proposals announced yesterday and there is congressional support.
I should like to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake on the subject of airfield defence.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised a number of questions. I intend to write to him about the cost of Sidewinder and the size of purchases from the United States. He asked specific questions and I shall endeavour to obtain specific answers. I also intend to look into the subject of helicopter safety, especially in the Falklands. The services would not allow helicopters to fly in the Falklands if they did not believe them to be safe. Nevertheless, I will give the hon. Gentleman a considered reply in writing.
I promise to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the hon. Gentleman's observations about the need for a Select Committee on intelligence. I will also draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to what was said in the letter to which the hon. Gentleman referred. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, however, I am not prepared to comment on GCHQ or the Belgrano. I hope that he will accept that.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North referred to the balance between the Harrier and FEFA programmes. There is no clash. The FEFA project has a later time scale. The advanced Harrier—the GR5—will come in later this decade but FEFA will not be until the mid-1990s on the present programme. On the percentage of work on the GR5, I cannot really add to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in opening the debate—40 per cent. of the work on the aircraft and 75 per cent. of the engine work will be carried out by British industry although only 20 per cent. of the combined number of aircraft to be produced will be for the RAF.
Several hon. Members referred to the new trainer. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, a decision has yet to be taken whether to refurbish the Jet Provost or purchase a new trainer aircraft. It is likely to be taken in the next few months. Many manufacturers, British and foreign, have responded to our invitation on the AST 412. Their proposals are being carefully evaluated. We must take advantage of that competition, but I hope that at the least any new aircraft will be built in the United Kingdom. As it is such a competitive area, it would be unwise for me to go further.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) made an impressive speech. He gave me notice that he would not be able to stay for my wind-up speech. He referred to the Tornado stand-off missile. We are studying the possible advantages of introducing a conventionally armed long-range stand-off missile. As we said in last year's statement on the Defence Estimates, those missiles could make a significant contribution to raising the nuclear threshold, but we do not believe that they could replace nuclear weapons, which are essential for deterrence.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to how AMRAAM is ahead of ASRAAM. He wondered whether the ASRAAM programme was safe. The Tornado F2, with its excellent range and loiter capability, will enter service armed with Skyflash and Sidewinder missiles. In the early 1990s, we plan to replace them with a new generation of weapons—AMRAAM and ASRAAM, on which we are working with our American and German allies. We want 494 them both. I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's support for those systems and the way in which the programme is being tackled.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber referred to low flying. In 1979 low-flying arrangements over the United Kingdom were completely revised to make best use of air space for this vital training, and to avoid populated areas and, as far as possible, sensitive places such as hospitals. I am pleased that the level of complaints, in comparison with the number of low-flying exercises, showed a drop under the new system, although the low-flying schedule was substantially increased. I also note what the hon. Gentleman said about the Tornado and its likely impact in that area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries referred to ATC development. The ATC is a most valuable youth service and a source of high-quality, well-motivated recruits for the RAF. As was announced to the House on 20 January, following the successful trial of admitting girls to membership, squadrons are being opened for a proportion of girls, as resources permit. We keep very much in mind the need to give them interesting and exciting training.
My hon. Friend also paid a generous tribute, in which I am sure the House would like to join, to our search and rescue services in the RAF. The RAF is required by international convention and agreement to provide a civil, maritime and aviation search and rescue organisation. In support of that commitment, and acting on behalf of the Department of Transport, helicopters of the Royal Navy and the RAF, together when necessary with RAF Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft and RAF mountain rescue teams, operate a permanent standby service for search and rescue. Units dedicated to search and rescue are situated throughout the United Kingdom, and there are two continuously manned rescue co-ordination centres at Edinburgh and Plymouth.
It is a great privilege for me to wind up this annual debate on the RAF. In a democracy such as ours, there quite rightly is debate as to how much should be spent on defence, how it should be allocated to the three services and, within each service, the priorities for that spend. Some of that debate has taken place today.
However, what cannot be in doubt when we talk of the RAF is the quality of its equipment and the sheer professionalism and courage of our service men; we saw that in battle in the Falklands. We see it, for example in outstanding rescue feats by our helicopter crews and in our pioneering mid-air refuelling techniques.
At the Ministry of Defence I occupy the office which was formerly that of the Secretary of State for Air, when we had a separate Air Ministry. On my outer office wall there is a signed letter from George VI to the then Secretary of State for Air dated 1 April 1943, on the 25 anniversary of the RAF. The letter says:But its prime cause, beyond question, is the spirit which inspires each and every member of the force—the spirit that attains the stars, however hard the way may be".That is as true and relevant today as it was then.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.